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25th January 2021

Gifts to charities – don’t let them fail

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In Knipe v British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity and others, the High Court adopted a pragmatic approach to ensure that legacies left to incorrectly named charities in a Will would not fail.

The testator left gifts to four charities in his Will. Two of the institutions it referred to did not exist and there was no other evidence to provide clues as to the testator’s wishes.

The first gift to “British Racing Drivers’ Club Benevolent Fund” was relatively easy for the court to interpret, given the testator’s background. He had been a racing driver and a member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. In this instance, the Court held that he must have had the British Racing Drivers’ Club Motor Sports Charity in mind, as this was a registered charity administered by the Club.

The second gift to “Cancer Research Fund” proved much more problematic because the phrase relates to a broad charitable purpose rather than any specific institution. The name is associated with a number of registered charities but there was no evidence that the testator intended to leave a gift to any one of these charities at the time he signed his Will. Consequently, the Court held that the executor had discretion to apply the gift to one or more charities which fulfilled the charitable purpose of cancer research.

This case highlights the need for clarity when leaving gifts to charitable organisations in your Will. We recommend including registered charity numbers and full addresses in addition to charities’ names. Ambiguities are likely to result in greater administration costs and, in extreme cases, applications to the court, the costs of which are likely to be payable from the deceased’s estate. Leaving money to charity is efficient for Inheritance Tax purposes, but valuable charitable gifts can be depleted by badly prepare Wills.

If you would like to talk to a solicitor about leaving a gift in your will, please contact Jennifer Koch or Rachel Hawkins.

Case: Knipe v British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity and others [2020] EWHC 3295 (Ch)