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Disputed Wills: A Mixed Bowl for the R.S.P.C.A.

View profile for Paul Hajek
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The Court of Appeal decided on two disputed Will cases in December, both involving charitable gifts to the RSPCA

The first case involved a husband and wife making “mirror image” wills i.e. identical Wills.

The Wills made charitable gifts to the R.S.P.C.A., which were to take effect on the death of the survivor i.e. if the husband died first then the charitable gift to the R.S.P.C.A. would only take place on the death of the wife.

In the event it was the husband who died first.

His will was not administered i.e. his Executors did not prove or obtain Probate on the basis everything passed to his wife, as she out-lived him.

His Wife died 7 years later: Her daughter was not mentioned in the Will and received no benefit. The estate was now worth over £1million.

The daughter made a claim to her mother’s estate.

The Court of Appeal held on the particular facts of the case that the wife's will was invalid. The reason: she could not have properly understood and approved of the contents of her will and she did not intend to leave her daughter with nothing.

The second case involved the impact of inheritance tax rules on certain provisions of a Will and Charitable Gifts which are exempt form Inheritance Tax.

The deceased’s Will purported to leave:

• a gift which was phrased “to give the maximum amount possible without giving rise to tax” to his brother and his friends. This known in Will making circles as a Nil Rate Band Legacy.
• A legacy, free of tax, of his bungalow to his brother and his friends. At the time of his death (worth £169,000)
• The rest of his estate was to go to the R.S.P.C.A.

The Court of Appeal, over turning the earlier High Court decision, held that the Will had to be construed so that the Nil Rate Band gift could only be of the amount left after taking into account the value of the bungalow.

The Court agreed with the argument put forward by the R.S.P.C.A. that the Nil Rate Band amount covered both the legacy of the bungalow and the cash gift, and that the gift to it should be exempt from tax.

In this instance it was the beneficiaries who were left disappointed and not the charity.

The outcome for the RSPCA was therefore as you might say a mixed bowl.

What is clear is that Charities, who face ever increasing costs, will be more inclined to take Executors to court to fight for what they feel is rightfully due.

Next of kin, where an Estate is sizable will be more likely to sue for what they believe is theirs by right.

Even more clear, is to ensure you take your Solicitors advice in drafting your Will to ensure as much as is possible that the Will will not be the subject of a costly dispute later on.

How to avoid a Disputed Will?

See this section of our website on How Do I Leave Money to a Charity in My Will.

Prepare you will very carefully and in particular with your Solicitor who understands how different gifts are dealt with under the general law and can advise you how best to complete your will to suit your requirements.

You can contact our Wills and Trusts Specialist Solicitors by ringing 01454312125 or contacting me at hilary [at]cluttoncox.co.uk.

If you have a specific query you would like answered, purely without obligation, please also contact us. 

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