Gifts Causa Mortis Laws

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What Is a Gift Causa Mortis?

A gift causa mortis is a gift of personal property made with the expectation that the person giving the gift will soon die.

What Qualifies as a Gift Causa Mortis?

In order to be a gift causa mortis, four conditions must be met:

The donor must intend to make an immediate transfer of ownership to the person whom they wish to give the gift.

The gift must be delivered to the person receiving the gift. If personal delivery is impossible or impractical, then symbolic or constructive delivery will be sufficient. By doing so, the donor relinquishes their ownership to the property.

The donee must accept the gift. Generally, courts will presume acceptance of a gift if it is unconditional or valuable.

The donor must be acting out of the a belief of impending or imminent death. The donor cannot merely have a general apprehension of dying at some point in the future.

How Does a Gift Causa Mortis Differ from Traditional Gifts?

Unlike a gift inter vivos, otherwise known as a "gift between living people," gifts causa mortis are both revocable and conditional. They also differ in tax implications.

Revocable: The donor may unilaterally choose to revoke the gift at any time while they are still alive. Additionally, the gift is either revoked or revocable at the donor's discretion, if they wind up surviving the conditions that caused them to initially fear death.

Conditional: The gift is also conditional on the donee surviving the donor. If the donee dies before the donor, then the gift is revoked and the donee's estate retains no interest in the property.

Taxes: Gifts causa mortis also differ from other gifts in that they are taxed under federal estate tax law as if they were gifts bequeathed in a will. This is largely because a gift causa mortis is incomplete until the death of the donor. However, a gift inter vivos that is made within 3 years of death will also be taxed under the federal estate tax law.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Gift Causa Mortis?

Property law is very complex and can be confusing, especially surrounding gifts. This is particularly true if you are considering options to avoid probate. An experienced property attorney would be able to advise you on whether the gift causa mortis that you gave or received was valid, and what complications may arise. A probate attorney would be able to help you choose other alternatives, such as trusts or gifts inter vivos, that may help avoid probate.

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Last Modified: 06-26-2014 09:24 AM PDT

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