Causa Mortis

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[Latin, In contemplation of approaching death.] A phrase sometimes used in reference to a deathbed gift, or a gift causa mortis, since the giving of the gift is made in expectation of approaching death. A gift causa mortis is distinguishable from a gift inter vivos, which is a gift made during the donor's (the giver's) lifetime.

The donor of the gift of personal property must expect to die imminently from a particular ailment or event. This has important consequences in terms of the donor's ability to revoke the gift.

For example, an elderly man is suffering from pneumonia and believes he is going to die as a result of the sickness. He tells his grandson that if he dies, he will give the grandson his pocket watch. If the man recovers and wants to retain his watch, he will be able to do so, because a gift causa mortis is effective only if made in contemplation of death due to a known condition and the donor actually dies as a result of that condition.

A gift causa mortis is taxed under federal estate tax law in the same way as a gift bequeathed by a will.