Court clarifies confusion in man’s will over gifts to charities
The High Court has clarified how shares in a man’s estate should be distributed when charities specified in his will no longer existed.
The will gave several legacies before leaving the residue of the deceased's estate to ‘the British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund’ and ‘the Cancer Research Fund’.
However, there was no institution or charity with either of those names so the executor of the will asked the court to make declarations as to which organisations should benefit.
The court noted that the deceased was a retired professional racing driver and a long-standing member of the British Racing Drivers' Club. Given his professional background, as well as the absence of any other candidate, it was hard to believe that he had in mind any institution other than the British Racing Drivers' Club Motor Sport Charity.
Cancer Research UK and the World Cancer Research Fund were both good candidates for the share referred to in the will as ‘Cancer Research Fund’.
They had agreed to share the gift between them but that did not protect the claimant as executor in case another charity made a claim.
Research on the website of the Charity Commission showed that ‘Cancer Research Fund’ was the name historically taken by certain subsidiaries of larger registered charities. In 2004, when the deceased made his will, there were four subsidiary charities so named, but none of them remained in existence at the date of his death.
There was no evidence that the deceased had any named charity in mind at the time of making his will.
It was likely that the phrase ‘Cancer Research Fund’ did not refer to a particular institution, even though it was expressed with initial capital letters. Instead, it referred to the general charitable purpose of cancer research.
It was therefore for the executor to apply the gift to that general charitable purpose, for example, by dividing it between Cancer Research UK and the World Cancer Research Fund.
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Case Citations:  EWHC 3295 (Ch), JAMES FRANCIS KNIPE v BRITISH RACING DRIVERS' MOTOR SPORT CHARITY & 5 ORS (2020) Ch D (Judge Paul Matthews)
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