Causa Mortis

Author: Anisha Tak, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab


Causa Mortis means in contemplation of approaching death. There is a requirement in contemplation of death that the apprehension of death must be based on some disease or sickness which is in existence at the present, the physical condition of the person, advancing of a dangerous situation.[1]


This maxim is used in describing Gift Causa Mortis. When a gift is given by the donor under the consideration of death and this contemplation is rooted in the fact that the donor was in peril of death, or was under an apprehension of death on the grounds of existing illness then such gift would be a Gift Causa Mortis.[2]

The requirement of expectation of death in the case of Gift Causa Mortis was highlighted in the case of Gourley v. Linsenbigle. It was also held that the donor of the gift must be put under the contemplation of death by the serious nature of his illness.[3]

In the case of Hassell v. Basket, it was held that the intention of the donor to give the gift must be displayed in a clarified manner. It was held that the donor has the right to revoke the gift till his death. The gift would revoke ipso facto if the donor survives the peril. The court upheld that if the donee dies before the donor then the revocation of the gift takes place. If the assets of the deceased donor are not sufficient enough to pay off his debts, then the gift given by him to the donee would be revoked.[4]

In the earlier English cases, it was highlighted that the actual delivery of the chattel given as a gift must take place in the conditions of Gift Causa Mortis. However, this view has been overruled under modern cases.[5] It was held that under equity, importance will be given to the intention of the parties and not to the way the gift is delivered. If there is the existence of such circumstances under which the actual delivery is not possible, then symbolic delivery of the gift would be considered valid as specified in Williams v. Guile. [6]

In Sharpe v. Sharpe, the same view was supported that if the donor who is having the intention of conferring the rights of ownership of his property on the donee, takes an action for conferring these rights on the donee then the gift would be completed.[7] The donor who is on death-bed and is not capable of completing a manual delivery then under such exceptional circumstances, if he takes such an overt action which could exhibit his desire to give a gift and is capable of acting as proof of the delivery in a similar manner the actual delivery would have acted as a proof, then such delivery would be valid. Thus, constructive delivery such as delivering the key of the box in which the gift is kept, or delivering the certificate of deposit would be considered as a completed delivery of the gift.[8]

[1] Causa Mortis, Contemplation of Death, Black’s Law Dictionary (4th ed. 1971).

[2] Coffin v. Hyde, 35 Idaho 247, 205 P. 736 (1922).

[3] Gourley v. Linsenbigle, 56 Pa. 166 (1868).

[4] Hassell v. Basket, 107 U. S. 602.

[5] Gifts. Essentials of Gift Causa Mortis, 8 THE VIRGINIA LAW REGISTER, 947, 947-949 (1923),

[6] Williams v. Guile, 117 N. Y. 343

[7] Sharpe v. Sharpe, 90 S.E. 34 (1916).

[8] J. F. S., Donatio Mortis Causa, 59 UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA LAW REVIEW AND AMERICAN LAW REGISTER  95, 95-98, (1910),