Legacies from wills: The devil is in the detail
Legacies from wills represent a vital source of income for charities. In 2017 alone some £2.8bn was recorded as being left to charities across the UK. With that in mind, it is very important that your donors record their legacies properly to ensure these reach your charity without dispute or complication.
Problems can arise when a donor accidentally gives the wrong charity name, uses an incorrect address, misspells the name of the charity or uses ambiguous terms. Such problems aren’t always limited to homemade wills, although may be more prevalent when the donor has attempted to draft the legacy themselves.
A lesson on the importance of ensuring donors are provided with accurate information and seek quality, professional assistance can be drawn from the case of Florence Rosemary Harte deceased.
Despite having her will professionally written, Mrs Harte’s will contained a number of errors relating to her charitable intentions and the case ended up being heard in the High Court in order to identify her wishes.
In providing her instructions Mrs Harte had been certain in her intentions but it was found that the will-writer had either made clerical errors or had failed to appropriately understand those instructions.
Two of the charitable gifts were thankfully saved because of reference made to a registered charity number which allowed for simple identification of charities which had otherwise been referred to incorrectly.
In respect of the other two gifts the case was not so straightforward. Firstly, Mrs Harte left part of her estate to ‘Newbury Hospital’, followed by an address. In this case the fact that the address related to ‘West Berkshire Community Hospital’ and that locally the hospital was referred to as ‘Newbury Hospital’ saved the gift from failing.
Of most difficulty though was a gift to ‘West Berkshire Ambulance Hospital’. There followed no address or registered charity number and no such organisation was found to exist. It was only after reviewing the will-writer’s notes that it was agreed that the intended recipient should be the ‘Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust’. The Judge in the case made this link by reviewing the notes which read: ‘please add the Air Rescue… West Berks area’.
In this case, the charitable intentions of the donor were saved but only after a lengthy and costly court process. This highlights the very real need for anyone wishing to leave a charitable legacy to take quality, professional advice through practitioners who have an understanding of charitable legacies.
Maximising the potential for your charity to receive legacies could make a significant difference to the work you can undertake and the support you can provide. A badly drafted legacy, or a poorly advised donor, could lead to your charity missing out on a legacy, or having to embark on expensive litigation to ensure the charity receives what the donor desired.
If you are asked to assist a donor in leaving a legacy to your charity and you are in any doubt about how this should be properly recorded, or if you want any further information about legacy campaigning and improving your legacies offering get in touch with our charities team. Call 01752 203500, or email me directly via matthew.rose@GAsolicitors.com.