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22 May 2024 | Comment | Article by Roman Kubiak TEP

Gifts to charity: The importance of certainty

Written by Tori Keyte, Trainee Solicitor in our Private wealth disputes department.

Leaving gifts to charities in a will is common for testators and represents a large portion of income received by charities. A testator may leave a charitable gift to express gratitude for support received during their lifetime, if they have no family to leave their estate to, or if they wish to reduce their inheritance tax liability.

The recent case of Dryden v Young & Others [2024] EWHC 1096 (Ch) provides clarification as to the courts’ approach to charitable gifts and serves as a reminder of the importance of drafting appropriate charitable provisions.

The deceased, Marjorie Thompson, died in 2020 leaving a will which divided her estate worth approximately £1.48m equally between 15 charities. The issue was that the identity of seven of these charities was unclear, with some no longer existing, or changing names.

One of the challenges for the court was Clause 13 of the will, which prevented a charity from receiving their portion of the estate, should they change their name or merge with another charity.

The law stipulates that a gift in a will fails if there is uncertainty of object, that is, if it cannot be clearly determined who the beneficiary of the gift is. The courts were therefore tasked with considering whether the seven gifts to the ambiguous charities were to fail for uncertainty of object, pass by the intestacy rules, or make the gifts cy-pres.

The court applied the doctrine of cy-pres, which consists of taking an approach which is ‘as close as possible’ to the testator’s intentions in situations where it is impossible to follow the strict wording of the will.

In all cases the court identified a suitable charity to receive the gifts, despite the unusual nature of Clause 13 of the will. The judgment clarified how the courts will approach cases where the intended charitable beneficiary is unclear and more importantly, highlights the ambition of the courts to give effect to charitable gifts.

Dryden v Young is a useful example of the complexities and costs that can arise where a will is not drafted accurately. Ensuring that your will is drafted with clear certainty will avoid costly disputes between parties at a later date.

If you would like to discuss leaving a gift to charity or have a wider private wealth dispute, please get in touch to see how we can help you.

Key contact

Roman Kubiak TEP


Roman Kubiak is a Partner and Head of the market leading Private Wealth Disputes team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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