Challenging testamentary legacies
For a large number of charities, testamentary legacies are an important, if not essential, source of income. According to the Charities Aid Foundation records for 2017, 37% of income for charities in England and Wales derives from legacies and averaged c£450,000 per charity.
Often however, where an individual decides to leave their assets to a charity dear to them, this will leave disappointed relatives wanting to challenge the Will or the level of financial provision they receive under it.
Generally speaking, a challenge can be brought against the validity of a Will in relation to its format/execution, if there is evidence to show the deceased lacked capacity or if there is evidence to show that the deceased was unduly influenced by a third party.
In addition, spouses, close relatives, and those who were dependent on the deceased during their lifetime may be able to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if they have not received reasonable provision. The recent Illot v Mitson case received much press interest after the Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeal decision regarding the level of award to be made to an estranged daughter. Unfortunately, the headlines were not entirely reflective of the decision, generally speaking these incorrectly interpreted the implications of the case and the risks of future litigation (for more details on the media’s approach Myles McIntosh has published the following blog https://www.cripps.co.uk/will-disputes/daughter-cut-will-loses-legal-fight/)
Often, when a charity receives the details of a potential claim, it will be in a difficult position. Aside from the general concerns any party to litigation has (such as the risks of losing, proportionality and costs), it will have to consider the potential for press interest and any consequent risks to its reputation (particularly when social media can provide immediate publicity to any individual). Balancing maximising current income needs with future donations is an issue common to most charities .
In this context , t is important for charities to seek clear legal advice from specialist solicitors before and during litigation so as to establish the best way forward. For example, early intervention can often head off a claim or encourage an early resolution of it, thereby maximising the return whilst minimising cost and risk to the charity.
We have an experienced trust and estate dispute team at Cripps and if you would like a no obligations discussion with one of the team please contact me at constandinos.Sikkel@crippspg.co.uk.