A case has recently been brought by a number of charities (Friends of the Animals, Heart Research UK, Dogs Trust and World Animal Protection) against Richard Guest whose partner, Tracey Leaning, passed away in 2015.
Ms Leaning had made a Will in 2007 and left all of her £340,000.00 estate to the charities in full. Before she died, Ms Leaning subsequently made another Will and left all of her estate to Mr Guest, provided that he cared for her three dogs.
As a result of the most recent Will, the charities have lost out on Ms Leaning's estate and have challenged the Will which they say is invalid meaning the previous Will, which leaves the estate to them prevails. The Court will now need to decide.
Wills have to be prepared in a very strict way, failing which they are invalid. If the attempt to make a replacement Will was not technically correct this could mean that the first Will remains in force. As a beneficiary under that first Will the Charities are entitled to challenge the second Will.
This case demonstrates the very real tensions which exist in this often complicated area of law. On the one hand, there is the general principle of 'testamentary freedom' – i.e. that people should be able to leave their estate to whoever they please without interference – and, on the other, charities having an obligation to pursue these cases where they appear to have lost out in order to secure funds which can be used to further their charitable aims.
The most important principle through this is that a Will should be prepared in accordance with the strict rules and it is not clear whether the Will was prepared by a solicitor who should have ensured it was prepared correctly.
The case also demonstrate the need for both individuals and charities to seek professional advice. Whilst individuals are free to leave their estate to whoever they please, their Will needs to be correctly prepared in order to protect a testator's estate from a successful claim by a disgruntled family member or dependant or a potential beneficiary such as a charity. Such claims can have very expensive and damaging implications for the estate itself.
Charities also need to carefully consider their position if they are unhappy with the contents of a Will and are considering a challenge. Such actions are inevitably expensive, they can take a very long time to be resolved and there is the potential for the action to damage to the charity's reputation.
We offer a full range of legal services to our clients, if you would like to discuss your situation in further detail please call 01603 693500 or email us using 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, and Sheringham offices.
If you feel you have have unfairly treated by the contents of a loved one's will please contact Tammy Parnell, Partner and Contentious Probate and Trusts Solicitor.
If you would like to make a Will that give you complete peace of mind and legal assurance that your wishes will be carried out once you are gone, contact our specialist team of Wills, Trusts and Probate Solicitors.
To our clients from the Charity sector, please see our dedicated webpage on our legal services for Charities or contact Neale Grearson, Head of Charities Department to discuss your individual requirements in further detail.