The High Court intervened to interpret a will where a number or charities that were the subject of gifts were incorrectly named. In all cases, the court identified a suitable body to receive the gift left in the will, with the result that none of the gifts failed.

In Dryden v Young [2024] EWHC 1095 (Ch), Marjorie Thompson (the Deceased) made a will dated 26 May 2016 and added a codicil on 20 October 2017. She died on 9 April 2020.  Both documents were admitted to probate. The Deceased left the residue of her estate equally to fifteen charitable organisations but the validity of the gift and identity of seven of the organisations had to be determined by the court:

  • Most representation to the court was by written witness statements.There were various gifts to family members and friends and then specific legacies to a number of charities.
  • The value of the estate was £1.48 million and a one-fifteenth share of residue would be about £105,000, subject to the costs of the legal proceedings.
  • The solicitor who had drafted the will had retired.  He had no written records to rely on and could only recall that he had accepted the list of charities as provided to him by the Deceased who had revised her will a number of times with the list being carried over to each new will.
  • The will contained a clause that barred any charity from benefitting if it had changed its name or merged with another before the estate was distributed. The court construed this clause to mean it "only bites on relevant identified changes that occur after the date of execution of the will".
  • For gifts to apparent charities the court said it was necessary to identify if the gift was conferred upon an entity which existed at the date of the will and what that entity is.
  • Having established that, for a gift to a charitable trust or charitable unincorporated association, the gift will be construed as a gift for the charitable purposes for which the charity holds its property, subject to any expressed contrary intention. For a corporate charity, a gift will be treated as a gift to the corporate entity itself and not a gift on trust for charitable purposes.
  • If an entity has changed in nature since the date of a will it will be passed ‘cy pres’ to an entity that is as close as possible to the original intended. If a gift is made to an entity that has never existed and if it cannot pass cy pres then it will pass as on an intestacy.
  • In the case of one of the animal charities named, it was a company now in liquidation which had still existed at deceased’s death so the gift was valid. The terms of the will did not invalidate the gift from being made to the liquidators. If the company had been dissolved prior to such a payment the amount would go to the Crown bona vacantia which would apply it for an analogous purpose of charity.
  • There were several charities listed for which no such organisation had ever existed, but there were similarities in names of organisations and in their objects with links to local addresses albeit sometimes with slight errors in the details of the address.

Accordingly, the court was able to identify an appropriate body to receive the intended gift and none of the gifts failed.

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 External links

Dryden v Young [2024] EWHC 1095 (Ch)