The importance of accurately identifying beneficiaries in Wills

12th February 2021 Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning

Accurately identifying intended beneficiaries in a Will is an essential element of drafting, which enables Executors to correctly administer an estate as per the deceased’s wishes. One would think that such a crucial facet of the Will writing process could never go amiss. However, it is not uncommon for spelling mistakes to appear on the names of individuals, or for organisations to be misidentified in a Will. Such errors are most commonly seen when dealing with home-made Wills. Unfortunately, uncertain legacies can have potentially devastating consequences, with the Courts even declaring some gifts as invalid.

The recent High Court case of Knipe v British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity and others [2020] EWCH 3295 (Ch) highlighted the importance of ensuring that beneficiaries are correctly identified in a Will.

Facts

The deceased, Mr. Barrie Williams, was a retired professional racing driver and in his Will, left a portion of his residual estate to the ‘British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund’ as well as the ‘Cancer Research Fund’. Unfortunately, no charities in these names actually existed. Therefore, the Executor of the estate had to apply to the Court to determine the construction of the Will, and to consider whether or not said bequests failed.

Law

Section 21(2) of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 provides that ‘extrinsic evidence including evidence of the testator’s intention may be admitted to assist in a will’s interpretation.’’ Unfortunately, Mr Barrie’s original will file had been destroyed and consequently there was no evidence as to his original instructions. Luckily, due to his familiarity with Mr. Barrie’s affairs, the Executor (who was a close friend of the deceased) assisted the Court by providing evidence as to the deceased’s nature, background and possible intentions when drafting the Will.

British Racing Drivers Club

Whilst the British Racing Drivers’ Club Benevolent Fund did not exist, Mr. Barrie had been a member of the British Racing Drivers Club, who administered a benevolent fund called the British Racing Drivers’ Club Motor Sport Charity.

Mr. Justice Mathews reached a determination that this was “a simple case of construing the words in the will in the context in which the deceased used them” to establish the proper construction of the Will. Thus, it was established that the deceased had intended to bequeath the British Racing Drivers’ Club Motor Sport Charity.

Cancer Research

There was no registered charity known by “The Cancer Research Fund’’ and the Court could not determine whether or not the name related to a specific institution due to the ambiguous nature. Unlike in the case of The British Racing Drivers Club, Mr. Barrie did not have a particular connection to any of the several sub-charities that were connected in some way to the wording ‘‘The Cancer Research Fund.’’

Mr. Justice Matthews concluded that the wording in the Will did not refer to a particular institution, instead it referred to the general charitable purpose of cancer research and thus it was for the executor to apply that part of the residue for that charitable purpose as he thought fit.

Conclusion

Luckily the Court upheld the charitable gifts in this matter, however this may not always be the case. Knipe v British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity and others was a timely reminder of the significance of ensuring that beneficiaries in a Will are correctly identified. Had the charities above been clearly defined, the Executor would not have had to seek costly and longwinded declarations from the Court. More importantly, accurate and clear drafting ensures that the deceased’s wishes are carried out, and the intended beneficiaries receive the benefits from the estate.

Our expert wills, trust and estate planning solicitors have helped people from many backgrounds to set up their wills, and are dedicated to making the process as simple and stress-free as possible, giving you peace of mind that your affairs will be taken care of properly.

For more information on Wills, or to speak to a solicitor about creating a Will, call JMW on 0345 241 5305. Alternatively, you can fill in our online enquiry form and we will get back to you.

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Jac Evans is a Trainee Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Trainee Solicitors department

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