EWHC rules in favour of claimant in high-value estate dispute

The England and Wales High Court (EWHC) has upheld Masudur Rahman’s claim that his friend, Al-Hasib Al Mahmood, transferred all his UK assets to him shortly before his death during a COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Al Mahmood, who had a UK estate valued at GBP 1.4 million, had previously made a will in 2015 bequeathing his assets to his wife’s three nieces and her brother, Dewan Raisul Hassan, the appointed executor. Hassan had already obtained probate for this will when Rahman contested the estate, asserting that Al Mahmood made deathbed gifts (donationes mortis causa) to him on October 15th and October 20th, 2020. These gifts included chattels, bank accounts, registered land, and assets inherited from Al Mahmood’s late wife, who had died two weeks earlier. Rahman claimed that he had been a close friend and caretaker for the couple in their final years.

The only living witnesses to these alleged gifts were Rahman and his wife, raising suspicion among the deceased’s family. Despite this, the burden of proof lay with Rahman.

Key testimony came from Jonathan Amponsah, a will draftsman who had been contacted by Al Mahmood on October 15th, 2020, to draft a new will naming Rahman as the sole executor and beneficiary. Amponsah was to return with witnesses on October 22nd, but delays led to Al Mahmood sending critical text messages. One message to Amponsah declared Rahman the absolute owner of all his assets and executor of his new will. Another message to a friend reiterated this intention. Al Mahmood died later that night.

Although there were doubts about the authorship of these texts, the EWHC confirmed they were sent by Al Mahmood. The court found that Al Mahmood intended to make a conditional gift in contemplation of death, valid under the doctrine of donatio mortis causa, and that he had the legal capacity to do so. The judge remarked:

“The doctrine of donatio mortis causa exists to address a human need when other legal mechanisms fail.”

Consequently, the court ruled in Rahman’s favour, except for some minor issues (Rahman v Hassan, 2024 EWHC 1290 Ch).

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