ט׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (March 29, 2015)

Ketubot 55a-b: A Gift of One on His Deathbead

A matnat shekhiv mera is a present given by an individual who is on his death bed. Unlike other examples of property transfer where the most basic requirement demands that a formal kinyan take place, in the case of matnat shekhiv mera ruled that no such kinyan is necessary. This rule was established in order to ease the concerns that rest on a dying person who wants to be sure that his will is carried out prior to his death. Nevertheless, there are restrictions to this unique rule of matnat shekhiv mera, specifically that it only works if the dying man bequeaths all of his possessions while on his death bed. This clarifies to us that he is only distributing his wealth because he assumes that he has no more need for physical possessions, which leads to one final rule that applies to a case of matnat shekhiv mera: in the event that the dying man recovers, all of these presents must be returned, since they were given under a mistaken impression.

Our Gemara discusses a case where in addition to his request that his money be given to others, the shekhiv mera arranged for a formal contract to be written that spelled out what was to be given away. In such a case, Rav argues that the present is certainly a good one since it works on two different levels – both as a normal present (even if he recovers the present is permanent and will not revert back to him) and as a matnat shekhiv mera (and he can even transfer loans that are owed to him, which ordinarily cannot be accomplished without a formal legal act). Shmuel argues, saying that he does not know how to rule in such a case, since the appearance of the contract seems to indicate that he does not want to invoke the matnat shekhiv mera rule, yet, “Ein shtar le-ahar mitah – a contract cannot take effect after death.”