Donatio Mortis Causa

Lawyers love Latin names – “donatio mortis causa” is a doctrine meaning a gift of property made by a donor in contemplation of their death within the near future.

In the case of King v Chiltern Dog Rescue and Redwings Horse Sanctuary the deceased was not terminally ill though she said that she did not expect to live until Christmas (she didn’t)

She gave her nephew the deeds to her house and a key. This does not legally transfer the house without a transfer document.  The nephew argued it was a case of “donatio mortis causa”, which has a similar effect to a gift in a Will.  However he has not been successful in his argument.  The rules for this type of gift are rightly very strict, or they could easily be abused.

In order to succeed:

  • The donor must contemplate his impending death.
  • The Donor makes a gift which will only take effect if and when his contemplated death occurs; until then he can revoke the gift
  • The Donor delivers dominion over the subject matter of the gift to the recipient

In this case the judge, on appeal, decided that the donor was not contemplating her impending death for a specific reason. It was not enough that she thought she would not live until Christmas.

There are a lot of rules around Wills, and they are there for a reason – to protect against abuse and undue influence. The court is right to limit ways of getting round needing to make a proper will.

The Donor in this case could easily have made a Will and saved a great deal of trouble and cost.

I say it again and again – do not put off making a Will; then keep it up to date.