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Leaving to charity in a will

Have you considered leaving money to an animal charity in your will? More are doing so apparently with charities keen to raise funds in a time of recession when donations traditionally dry up.

Such decisions should not be taken lightly however and many of these donations are leaving family members disappointed. Cases involving family members challenging legacies which have been left to animal charities are said to have trebled over the last couple of years. Donkey sanctuaries, the RSPCA and the PDSA are the most common beneficiaries and it is part of a wider area of contentious probate with money in short supply and families angry if it is not coming to the family.

Challenges

  • Challenges take place most often when an original will, in which the person leaves the money to their family, is revoked by a more recent one, sometimes written just before a person dies, which states that the money should go to an animal charity instead.
  • The challenge often comes from the relatives on the basis that the person who died did not have the capacity to change their will.
  • However, this can lead to a lengthy, complicated fight with no guarantee of success. Charities often do what they can to preserve the money they are given and it is rare they will settle out of court. After all, charities often rely almost wholly on private donations and legacy bequests are an important part of this.
  • Legacy income is worth almost £2bn annually to the charity sector.

Remember a charity
Remember A Charity was formed in 2000 and has many of the country’s leading charities, working together to persuade more people to consider leaving a charitable gift in their will. It says that while legacy income is a vital source of funds for the charities, its advice to potential donors is always to take care of friends and family first. However, when charities are made beneficiaries, it is the legal responsibility of the charity to respect the wishes of the donor.

Christine Gill v RSPCA
One of the most high-profile of cases in this area involved the RSPCA originally being left a £2m farm estate only for the High Court to overturn the ruling. Christine Gill from North Yorkshire took the case to court after her parent’s farm was originally given over to the charity. The judge in the case said that Dr Gill’s “domineering” father had coerced her mother into making the will. The RSPCA took the case to the Court of Appeal but lost, the judge agreeing that Mrs Gill’s will was invalid, though arguing that this was on the basis of a lack of knowledge and approval.

Advice on making a will
If you have never made a will before it is always best to get some advice from a solicitor as without it, there is always the risk of the will containing some legal issues which could make it invalid. If you have already made one, it is relatively easy to amend. Minor changes don’t need the making of a new one but if more numerous it would be best to have the will re-written. Amending the existing will is made by preparing a document called a Codicil which should be handed to your solicitor, who can help in preparing it, so it is kept alongside the original will.