The deceased was a recluse who left an estate worth over £3 million, but lived a very frugal life and did not, for example, own a chair. The deceased had no family nor seemingly any friends, but his one passion was sailing. His estate purported to leave a legacy to a sailing organisation up to the maximum of the nil-rate inheritance tax band, with the residuary estate being divided between 3 charities.
The firm was originally engaged by the Executor to administer the estate. It became apparent that as a result of a drafting error, the legacy to the sailing organisation, when read literally, would result in no money being passed to the intended beneficiary. The Executor had to be carefully advised in order to preserve his neutrality between the potential beneficiaries in dealing with this matter, which had the potential to become contentious. It was explained to the sailing organisation and to the charities that the legacy as drafted in the Will resulted in an absurdity, in that the sum of zero pounds was being left to the sailing organisation, with detailed wishes contained within the Will stipulating that, in effect, the sum of zero was to be spent on an ocean-going yacht. It was therefore explained that the Executor could not safely administer the estate on the basis of a literal reading of the relevant clause, and that unless agreement could be reached between the beneficiaries, it would therefore be necessary to seek directions from the Court as to how the Will should be construed. As this would result in legal costs being incurred, which would deplete the sums ultimately available for the residuary beneficiaries, it was suggested that the charities may wish to take legal advice as to the likely ultimate construction of the Will in the possible event that they wished to agree that the Will should be interpreted differently.
The Charities decided to agree the distribution to the sailing organisation, but a further hurdle to distribution then became apparent, in that the relevant clause potentially rendered the entire gift invalid. Again, the Executor had to be carefully advised and letters written on his behalf to the relevant beneficiaries to ensure that his neutrality was preserved whilst the issues surrounding the drafting of the relevant clause were set out. This involved a complex analysis of the Trust law surrounding gifts to unincorporated associations with non-charitable purposes, and in particular the application of case law which deals with the exceptions under which such gifts are considered valid.
At the present time, the sailing organisation has been invited to adduce evidence as to why the gift should be considered valid and if so, how it would operate. In the meantime, the charities have been invited to again take legal advice and consider their position in case they would prefer to reach an agreement rather than the estate continue to be depleted through legal fees.
In the absence of such agreement it will be necessary to seek the assistance of the Court as to the administration of the estate, but if so, it will raise interesting points of law as to the interpretation.