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Charities Win after Alleged Death Bed Gift Overturned

Seven charities are to benefit from the Court of Appeal overturning a previous judgement that would have seen them lose out on a large estate left to them in a Will.

June Fairbrother died in 2011 leaving a large estate to numerous animal charities, including her £350,000 house in Hertfordshire. She wrote her Will in 1998 and there were no amendments made to it up to the time of her death.

Her nephew, Kenneth King, claimed his aunt had spoken to him about the house a few months before her death and given him the property. This is known as a “deathbed gift” or, in legal terms, “donatio mortis causa”.

In 2014 the High Court rules in favour of Mr King, but this decision was challenged by the charities that were supposed to be left the estate. The Court of Appeal has now ruled in favour of the charities stating that Mrs Fairbrother was an intelligent retired police officer who had the wherewithal to change her Will if she had wanted to do so. Lord Justice Jackson said that there was not the slightest reason to presume that she was dissatisfied with her Will.

A deathbed gift can take effect without the usual formalities of a Will, but it can be very hard to prove. In order for a deathbed gift of an asset to be valid, the gift must be made by someone in contemplation of his or her impending death. The gift must be dependent on them dying and there must be the handing over of the asset itself. There must be the intention to change the ownership of the asset rather than just physical possession of it.

If there is a Will that states something other than the alleged deathbed gift, the beneficiaries are likely to challenge the gift. In the case of the charities and Kenneth King, the Court initially found in favour of Mr King, but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision after looking at the state of the Will and the lack of proof.

If you need to contest or defend a Will you will have to have expert legal advice. Our Contentious Probate Solicitors can provide immediate legal representation. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9056 or contact us online and we will call you.

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