Disputing and Defending Charitable Legacies

It is common practice for people to leave sizable parts of their estate to charities. However, this may aggrieve certain other beneficiaries who feel they have missed out on their entitlement, or query the connection between the testator and the chosen charity.

When beneficiaries wish to contest such legacies, it is usually on the grounds that the will is invalid or reasonable financial provision has not been for them made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

There has been a recent trend of challenging charitable legacies in wills, and a number of high-profile cases have recently been reported.  In the interesting case of Ilott v. Mitson, a daughter to an estranged mother was expressly left out of her mother’s will and her entire estate, compromising £486,000, was left to three animal charities to which she had little or no connection.

In the first instance, the Claimant was awarded £50,000 but appealed on the basis that this was not sufficient. In the Court of Appeal, the Claimant was awarded £143,000 together with a further £20,000 for additional income.

Ten years from the first instant decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the initial award of £50,000. The Supreme Court commented that if the charities are the informed and freely chosen beneficiaries of the will, they should not be required to justify themselves under an Inheritance Act Claim. This decision is welcoming to charities who receive a large portion of their funding through the legacies of wills. If upheld, the decision in the Court of Appeal could have prompted further challenges to charities under Inheritance Act claims. Of course, this case should not be taken as laying out guidance for future claims. In particular, claims under the Inheritance Act turn on their own facts and it is strongly recommended that early advice is sought if you feel that you have a potential claim, or someone is claiming against you.

Both individual beneficiaries and charities have a lot to lose in cases where legacies are contested and it pays to have experienced and expert legal representation on your side. We are confident we can get to the heart of your issue and provide tailored advice that is efficient and cost effective.