A will is a legal document explaining what a person wants to happen to their possessions after their death. The instructions within the will for distributing those possessions are known as legacies.
Many charities benefit from legacies or bequests in wills. Usually a legacy will pass to the charity with very little difficulty. However, where a will is not clearly written, doubts may arise about which charity is entitled to receive the legacy.
If you want to leave money or property to a charity you should:
You could also, to avoid problems, include wording such as “if this charity does not exist or cannot be traced, the money can be given to a charity that helps [state the charitable purpose, eg relief of sickness]”.
If you need general help about wills, you should take your own professional advice as we cannot give individuals advice about this.
Our general approach is that we will not help with finding potential charitable beneficiaries. This is a task for the executors named in the will.
We very rarely need to get involved. Where executors have doubts or difficulties about whether or not particular legacies should go to charitable beneficiaries, they need to seek their own professional advice, for example from a solicitor.
For further information see our operational guidance, Will cases: Redirecting failed charitable legacies.
If the will refers to a particular charity, and you think that there is an error in the way that the charity has been described, consider the following:
Consider using the advanced search in the register of charities, although you should note that not all charities are registered.
Sometimes legacies are for a charitable purpose, for example the relief of sickness, and they do not name particular charities. In these situations the legacy can be given by the executors to any charity or charities which carry out that purpose.
For further detail on this, and other reasons why executors may have difficulty in identifying the correct charitable beneficiaries, please see section B in our guidance Will cases: Redirecting failed charitable legacies.
You will need to read our guidance, including the case studies. This is because what you should do will depend on the circumstances, such as whether the charity ceased to exist before or after the date of death.
The Commission will not confirm - by providing legal authority - the payment of legacies just because the executors have some doubt about whether or not they have identified the correct charity. We will only provide authority if it is legally required.
There are rare situations when we must be involved to help when it is not possible for the instructions in the will to be carried out. You can find more information about this in section B3 of our guidance.
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