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charity dispute
  • Published:
    15 March
  • Area of Law:
    Charity Disputes

10-year court battle over will rules in favour of beneficiaries

Supreme Court judges overturned a Court of Appeal decision today in relation to Heather Ilott who was disinherited by her estranged mother. In her will, her mother left most of her estate to three animal charities. Andrew Wilkinson, partner and will disputes specialist comments on the ruling:

“This is a reassuring outcome for those thinking of making a will and those who already have one. Today’s ruling gives further weight to the stated intentions of those people making wills and emphasises the limited circumstances in which the court will interfere with an individual’s wishes – it is not the court’s job to simply impose a “fair” distribution of the estate. The case also suggests that intended beneficiaries do not have to show that they are in financial need in order to be able to defend a claim”.

“While the outcome is positive for testators and beneficiaries (whether individuals or charities), the appeal process, which has taken almost 10 years, has been unsettling and individuals preparing wills should be reminded about the importance of leaving the clearest possible instructions, particularly with regard to any charitable donations they wish to make. 

“It is important that wishes are clearly stated in a will and that the contents are reviewed regularly.  It is also important for records to be kept, ideally alongside the will, explaining what provision is being made for whom and why, and also to explain, why particular obvious beneficiaries (e.g. children) have been excluded.

“For example, many people wish to leave part of their estate to a named charity or charities and it may be necessary to clarify that this is being done as part of genuine desire to support a particular cause, which is dear to their heart. They may, for example, be someone who regularly donates to a charity or volunteers for them – and this is information which should be recorded, and updated, where relevant.”

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