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Charities win landmark legal battle over 'death bed gift'

Two animal charities, Redwings Horse Sanctuary and Chilterns Dog Rescue Society, have successfully overturned a High Court decision in a landmark legal case impacting on the use of ‘death bed gifts’.

The charities were named as beneficiaries in June Fairbrother’s Will but a 2014 High Court ruling stated that as Mrs Fairbrother had verbally gifted her property to her nephew before her death, this overrode the wishes set out in her Will.  However, the Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Fairbrother had numerous opportunities and the capacity to change her Will in line with any revised wishes she may have had.

The law firm acting on behalf of the charities said that if the High Court decision had been upheld it would set “a dangerous precedent, undermining the legal sanctity of a properly executed Will.”  They added that the decision could have resulted in a flood of claims from friends and family that could argue that they had been promised assets verbally, despite not being documented in a Will.

Speaking about the case, a Partner at the firm representing the charities said; “The Court of Appeal has made it very clear to potential claimants that it will not look favourably on those who try to override a properly executed Will by making a weak claim to a ‘death bed’ gift. The court do not want to discourage people from making Wills and instead to divide up their estate through informal promises.”

The decision comes in the wake of news that the RSPB is looking to sell land despite the widow’s wishes that the land should never be built upon.