What is a gift causa mortis?

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2021 | Estate Administration & Probate |

Estate planning can seem simple and complex at the same time. On the one hand, your loved one’s estate plan distributes your assets to your loved ones. On the other hand, many nuances can make a simple will more complex.

An estate plan distributes what your loved one owns right before they pass away. If a friend or family member gives an asset away before they die, it may mean that the item is no longer available to the person listed in the will. When the loved one gives it away as they are dying, sometimes it can be a cause for question.

Here’s what you should know about “deathbed gifts” and when they are (and are not) valid in California.

When is a deathbed gift valid?

Gifts are an important way people demonstrate affection and appreciation. In general, all gifts follow the following pattern:

  • Donative intent. The giver intends to give the gift to the recipient.
  • Delivery. The giver gives the gift (or a symbol of the gift) to the recipient.
  • Acceptance. The recipient accepts the gift from the giver.

The critical difference between a gift causa mortis and other gifts is that a gift causa mortis must satisfy the above elements while the giver is contemplating their impending death.

Keep in mind that there are times when the giver cannot physically and over the item in question and may give a symbol, such as a key or a deed, to satisfy the delivery step in giving the gift.

When are these gifts questionable?

Deathbed gifts can present challenges, such as:

  • Inability to question the loved one about the rationale for the gift
  • Lack of safeguards against manipulation
  • Revocation of the gift if the giver survives what might have been imminent death

Proving that a gift causa mortis is not valid can be challenging, especially if a lot of time passes between the gift and the challenge. It is essential to present any challenges right away while there is more evidence to build the case.