Strange bequests in Wills and how legacies can be left 'open' to a charities choice

Posted by Stephen Evans on
Most Wills are pretty unexciting documents, but occasionally we hear of an odd bequest someone has made which provide a little more entertainment. Our expert explains the rights of a charity who have been left money for a specific purpose. 

How about the strange bequest made by a step-father who left his step-daughter the "price of half a pound of pork sausages" that she claimed her late mother had not paid for? Or, for the romantics, there was the provision made by a devoted husband that his wife should receive a single red rose every day for the rest of her life.

A more serious-minded testator who died in 1928 left half a million pounds to help clear the national debt, with the unfortunate stipulation that it could only be used for that purpose once it was sufficient to clear the entire amount outstanding. It doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon!

How far you should go in setting out your wishes is down to you. But for many, making these decisions and knowing they will be carried out by your executors, can provide comfort.

When making a bequest in a Will, you should take care that they are actually capable of being used for their intended purpose. Anyone leaving a bequest to a charity with "strings attached" should take note of this. I remember during my time working for a national charity that we received a bequest stipulating that the money was to be used for the provision of assistance dogs for residents of one of the Channel Islands. Unsurprisingly, there weren't too many residents requiring an assistance dog so the money had to be kept by for a long period instead of being used where it was actually needed. The testator clearly wanted their money to be used for a specific charitable purpose but did not think through what might happen if this was not possible.

So if you want to leave money to a charity for a specific purpose, do check with the charity that (a) the purpose can actually be fulfilled and (b) that in any case this will be in the best interests of the charity. A sound approach would be to leave the money as an unrestricted gift but express the wish that it be used for your intended purpose. That way the charity can keep the money if your request cannot be fulfilled. It may be that your favourite charity does not need yet another memorial bench.

For further information on leaving a charitable legacy in your Will, please contact Stephen Evans or another member of the Blake Morgan Succession and Tax team.

Blake Morgan is supporting Remember A Charity Week, which runs from 11-17 September 2017.

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Stephen is a Solicitor in our Succession & Tax team.

Stephen Evans
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