Sen v Headley

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Last modified: 12/10/18 Author: In-house law team

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Sen v Headley [1991] Ch. 425

DONATIO MORTIS CAUSA – TRANSFER OF LAND – FORMALITIES – CONSTRUCTIVE TRUSTS

Facts

In 1986 the deceased (T) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While in hospital the claimant (C) was told by T that his house would thereafter belong to C, and that she would find the deeds to the property in a steel lockbox to which she had the keys. T passed away several days later. C bought an action against T’s estate, claiming to be entitled to the property on the basis that the actions of T amounted to a valid “donatio mortis causa” DMC. The judge at first instance found that there could not be a valid DMC of land and an appeal was brought by C.

Issue

The Court of Appeal were required to determine whether real property could form the subject-matter of a valid DMC or, in the alternative, whether the trust imposed under a DMC must comply with the formality requirements mandated by s.53(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925 (LPA) in order to be upheld.

Held

In allowing the appeal of C, the Court found that the question of whether land could be the subject of a valid DMC had to be determined as the law had now developed, especially that concerning constructive trusts. Section 53(1) LPA does not apply to constructive trusts (s.53(2) LPA) and, as the trust arising under a DMC was imposed by operation of law, s.53(1) LPA could not apply to defeat a DMC of land where the requirements for a valid DMC were otherwise made out.

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