Driven to Distraction; the importance of accurate Will drafting.
Author Marty Rubin once commented that “When the meaning is unclear, there is no meaning.” This reflection is undoubtedly true in many aspects of life. Still, it is particularly the case in the preparation and execution of legal documents, where a lack of clarity can lead to uncertainty, disagreement and unnecessary expense.
In the case of Knipe v British Racing Drivers' Motor Sport Charity and Others, the Executor of the estate of the late Barrie Williams (a retired professional racing driver and lifelong member of the British Racing Drivers Club) sought guidance from the Court as to the distribution of Mr William’s estate. Under the terms of his Will, Mr Williams divided the residue of his estate in the following shares:
- Fifty per cent to the “British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund”;
- Thirty per cent to the “British Racing Drivers Club”, with the request that the monies be used to provide an annual scholarship for training young racing drivers;
- Ten per cent to the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”;
- Ten per cent to the “Cancer Research Fund”.
The reason for the Executor seeking the Courts’ direction was that at the date of Mr Williams’ death, organisations by the name of the “British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund” and “Cancer Research Fund” did not exist.
The Court decided that the gift to the “British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund” should pass to the British Racing Drivers Club Motor Sport Charity (the sole charitable organisation administered by the British Racing Drivers Club). The Court accepted evidence of Mr William’s long-standing membership of that club and interpreted the wording of the Will in the context of his interest in the Club’s activities. Therefore, the Court was satisfied that Mr Williams intended the gift should benefit the benevolent fund of the British Racing Drivers Club.
In respect of the gift to the “Cancer Research Fund”, the Court considered whether the wording of the Will demonstrated a general intent to benefit the purpose of Cancer research, or whether Mr Williams had intended to benefit a particular Cancer research organisation (which had been incorrectly named in the Will). In deciding in favour of the former, the Court relied on section 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982, which provides that where the meaning of a Will is ambiguous, external evidence may be used to clarify the Testator’s intention. Mr Williams had no links with any particular Cancer research charity at the time of making his Will, as a result of which it was deemed that the gift was intended to benefit the general purpose of Cancer research. Therefore, the Executor was entitled to distribute the fund between such charities that fulfilled this general-purpose (in this case, Cancer Research UK and the World Cancer Research Fund).
Although the Court was able to clarify Mr Williams intended aims to allow interpretation of his Will, the confusion which arose would not have been necessary if greater care had been taken in preparing the Will. Had the organisations in question been correctly named or identified in some other way (for example, by the inclusion of a registered address or reference number), this longwinded and expensive process could have been avoided.
When executing a Will, it is important that clients seek professional advice to ensure that their wishes are clearly recorded, or in any event, that discretion is given to their Personal Representatives to fulfil their intended charitable aims.
Carson McDowell’s Private Client team has a wealth of experience in the drafting and preparation of Wills and a long-standing tradition of providing advice to individuals and families in estate planning matters. If you have any questions regarding the terms of your Will, please do not hesitate to contact Neil Bleakley, Andrew Davison or Naomi Lamont to discuss these important matters further.