Disputes over charitable gifts in wills has increased

The number of disputes over charitable gifts in wills has risen and this corresponds with a rise in the number of people leaving money to charities after they have gone.

The findings are according to new research from Co-op Legal Services, which claims that one in ten people left money to a good cause last year compared to just one in 16 the year before.

There have been a number of high-profile disputes lately regarding charity donations in wills. For example, in the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross & Others, earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled the charity was entitled to a chunk of a woman’s inheritance, despite her estranged daughter’s protests. The woman had left the majority of her estate to a number of charities, and made no provision for her daughter. Despite numerous appeals, the result found that: “While the charities’ claim was not based on personal need, charities depend heavily on testamentary bequests for their work, which is, by definition, of public benefit.”

There is also an increasing number of charities coming forward to challenge re-written wills that do not include them. For example, in August this year, the Daily Telegraph reported today that Dogs Trust, World Animal Protection, Friends of the Animals and Heart Research UK were all involved in a dispute over a will by Tracey Leaning, who died in 2015. According to the newspaper, Ms Leaning had written a will in 2007 that left property and money worth an estimated £340,000 to the charities. However, following being diagnosed with a brain tumour, she subsequently wrote another handwritten will, witnessed by a neighbour, which left her house, belongings and savings to her partner on the condition that he took care of her three dogs. It is not clear whether proceedings have been issued, but press articles imply that the Dogs Trust argues that the will is invalid. It may also be argued that she lacked the mental capacity to make a replacement will following her diagnosis.

With research suggesting that just 40% of Britons make a will, and arguments around mental capacity being put forward in an increasing number of probate cases, this issue is likely to become increasingly more contentious.

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