Ambiguous Drafting of Gifts to Charity in Wills

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Aalia Ijaz - Senior Associate

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Ambiguous Drafting of Gifts to Charity in Wills v2

A recent case heard by the High Court has highlighted the importance of considered preparation, clear drafting, and regular reviews in preparing Wills. 

Our Wills, Trust, and Probate Solicitors examine the case of Marjorie Thompson, who died in April 2020, leaving a will drafted in 2016. The Will purported to leave the estate, worth £1.48 million, to 15 different charities.

Unfortunately, the identities of seven of those charities were unclear.

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Challenges with ambiguous beneficiaries

An earlier will drafted in 2011 contained the same list of charities.

Unfortunately, although the Will had been drafted by a solicitor who had since retired, there was little in the way of notes or additional information to help the Executors identify the intended beneficiaries.

Unusually and unhelpfully, the Will was also drafted to prevent the gift from passing to a charity if it had merged or changed its name.

Therefore, the Court was left to decide if any of the gifts were invalid, passing either to the other beneficiaries of the Will or under the rules of intestacy or whether the doctrine of cy-pres (i.e., the power of the courts to direct assets to a charity nearest to an intended purpose to enable the wishes of the donor) would apply.

The Court managed to identify a suitable charity to receive each of the ambiguous gifts so that none of the gifts failed.

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Challenges with ambiguous beneficiaries

Tips for charitable giving in Wills

When considering benefiting charities under a Will, proper thought should be given to the details of the charity to ensure that there is a valid recipient of the gifts.

Wills are often drafted well in advance of their coming into effect, and so provision must be made to facilitate the distribution of the estate in accordance with the individual’s wishes, taking into account possible changes in the circumstances or set-up of intended beneficiaries.

Our top tips when considering making a gift to charity are:

  • Is it a specific named charity that you wish to benefit only?
  • If the charity changed its name, would you wish to benefit another charity supporting the same cause (e.g. animals, dementia, education)?
  • Is the charity registered with the charity commission to benefit from tax exemptions?
  • If you are making large gifts to charity and your estate is subject to Inheritance Tax, have you considered leaving 10% of your estate to reduce the Inheritance Tax rate from 40% to 36%? Find out more in our blog on inheritance tax.

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Tips for charitable giving in Wills

Ensuring your Wills intent

Seeking the assistance of a suitably qualified lawyer should ensure that the costs and time incurred in the interpretation and distribution of an estate, such as in the case of Marjorie Thompson, can be avoided.

Our Wills, Trusts and Probate team here at Myerson have the added accreditation of STEP (Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners) and can help you consider all options to ensure that your Will does exactly what you intend when the time comes.

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Ensuring your Wills intent

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It is important to make a Will to ensure that your property and other assets are distributed following your wishes or to update your current Will if your circumstances have changed in the last 3-5 years.

If you would like Myerson's Wills, Trusts and Probate Team's assistance in making a Will or reviewing your current Will, please call:


Aalia Ijaz's profile picture

Aalia Ijaz

Senior Associate

Aalia has 8 years of experience acting as a Wills, Trusts, and Probate solicitor. Aalia has specialist expertise in Wills, estate administration, Lasting Powers of Attorney, and Trusts.

About Aalia Ijaz >