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charities and contested Wills

Saturday’s Daily Telegraph article on contested wills including legacies to charities was really a slap in the face of charities and not the first and it won’t be the last.
We live in a country where you have the right to leave your money to whom (or what) you like. It is a great and proud right with a long history which no other country has.
There will always be people who want to take revenge on their family for letting them down or because there is a degree of dislike or even hatred. The current generation of legators are really the first generation to have experienced in big numbers: split families, divorces, second or even third marriages, mixed marriages where faith is “watered down” with only one active faith practitioner, partnerships and not marriages.
These circumstances will mean that expectations have not been met and disappointment is high to put it mildly.
So, given this sad and commonplace scenario what is the parent/grandparent making a Will meant to do?
The answer is quite simple – they are almost certainly not going to contact a charity saying “I hate my family”.
They are almost certainly going to go to a professional adviser to ask him/her to draft the Will.
They decide to disinherit one or more family members and to leave it to a charity they admire or support – the choice is theirs. The onus is on their professional adviser to tell their client of the dangers of this “disinheritance” and that the Will could be contested. So given this state of affairs the client writes a letter of wishes/intent which explains exactly why they have taken the action they have and they are (in their view) not bonkers or being unreasonable; this is just a statement on how they feel. And none of us REALLY know what went on behind closed doors in terms of arguments and perhaps even worse.
Please note the charity is not even involved at this stage. The only time the charity becomes involved is when they are notified of the legacy and they are then legally obliged to maximise the value of this legacy (if residuary) to comply with Charity Law. Then the charity, not the professional adviser ends up on the front page of the national media/social media etc. Now, before all hell is let loose, I am passionate in believing that charities must be deeply respectful , polite and, to a degree, flexible when dealing with the Executors and family members
But these “revenge legacies” are not promoted by charities – charities are just the recipient. The responsibility lies with the professional adviser to make every effort to ensure these gifts are not badly drafted, or seemingly mad, and that the wishes of their client are fulfilled. End of conversation.
I will be writing more about this in Fundraising in March. Also see commments www.civilsociety.co.uk

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