Gifts in Contemplation of Death
What are the legal implications of gifts given because of an impending death?

Coley v. Walker, 680 So.2d 352 (Ala. App. 1996)

A pastor visits an elderly church member in her hospital room prior to major surgery. The member delivers several items of jewelry to the pastor and informs him that "I want the church to have these items if I don't survive." The woman does not survive the surgery. Does the church own the jewelry? What if her heirs claim ownership of the jewelry? How would a court rule? The answer to these questions depends on the legal principle of gift causa mortis. A recent case illustrates the application of this principle.

Facts of the case. A woman was taken to a hospital emergency room after suffering a massive heart attack. She was informed that she needed immediate open heart surgery. As she was being taken to the surgery room, with her pastor and niece by her side, she was told that she would have to remove her rings. She removed the rings and, in the presence of her pastor, handed them to her niece. She stated that she wanted her niece to have the rings if she died during surgery. The woman died during open heart surgery, and a dispute arose as to the legal ownership of the rings (which were valued at $5,000).

Log In For Full Access

Interested in becoming a member? Learn more.

Posted: August 1, 1997
View All
from our store
2020 Church & Clergy Tax Guide

2020 Church & Clergy Tax Guide

Find comprehensive help understanding United States tax laws as they relate to pastors and churches.
Talking to Your Congregation About Money

Talking to Your Congregation About Money

Helpful insights on talking about money and encouraging people to become generous givers.
Charitable Contributions Bulletin Inserts

Charitable Contributions Bulletin Inserts

Help your members give more by answering their charitable giving and tax law questions.
Church Fundraising Campaigns

Church Fundraising Campaigns

Discover tips on raising and borrowing money.

ChurchSalary

ChurchSalary

Let ChurchSalary do the work. Get personalized compensation reports for staff and pastors.