How to Continue ‘The Stephen Sutton Legacy’ in Your Will
23 May 2014 by Andrea Godfrey
Stephen Sutton is a courageous young man who raised millions of pounds for charity whilst facing a terminal illness. Sadly he passed away last week aged just 19. There are many unsung hero’s who give up their time unconditionally to help others. Very close to home we have the amazing story of Tom Bowdidge from Colchester. He died in October last year aged just 19 after battling with a rare stomach cancer. Even though Tom was suffering he still managed to raise hundreds of pounds for Teenage Cancer Trust (an astonishing £170,000). But Tom wanted to go further and always wished he could start his own charity so his family decided to carry on his legacy by starting the foundation called the Tom Bowdidge Foundation. The foundation raises money for the existing charities such as the Teenage Cancer Trust – the same charity that Stephen Sutton raised over £3 million for.
If anyone decided to make a gift to this charity or any other charity in their Will, the questions often asked are “How do I know my gift will actually go to that charity?” Or “How do I know that my gift to a charity cannot be contested by my family?” Recent case law indicates that when a gift is made to a charity further procedures need to be carried out when drafting the Will..
Take the 2010 case of Gill v Woodall which came before the Court of Appeal. Mr and Mrs Gill were married and had Mirror Wills. Mr Gill died and his estate passed to Mrs Gill and on her death (a few years later) and in accordance with the Will, the estate worth around one million pounds was meant to passed to the RSPCA, a registered charity. The parties had a daughter (Dr Gill) and she had not been provided for in either of their Wills although the Will did contain a declaration that no provision had been made as she had already been well provided for. Mrs Gill suffered from agoraphobia, intense fear of being in public places. The High Court ruled that the will was invalid and reached this decision because they believed her husband was very domineering and that Mrs Gill did not actually approve her original Will and that she had been under the undue influence of Mr Gill.
The RSPCA appealed and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal because on the basis that Mrs Gill did not know and approve the contents of her Will. Their reasoning was that because of her illness she never attended the first appointment with the solicitor and therefore she did not provide her instructions as to what she wanted her Will to contain. The Wills had been posted in one envelope to Mr & Mrs Gill to read and there was nothing to suggest that Mrs Gill had actually read the Will before signing. The Court found that when she attended the solicitors office to sign, she probably had not understood (due to her condition) the contents of her Will. The Court reached the decision that the Will was invalid and the gift to the RSPCA failed.
Therefore what the case has taught legal Practioners is that there are extra procedures that should be followed when a client wishes to leave a large gift to charity. At Fisher Jones Greenwood, we always advise our clients to draw up a letter of their wishes and feelings because this helps the Executors understand why a gift was left to the charity instead of to a family member. These may seem simple steps but it is our way of ensuring that your wishes are carried out when you depart this mortal coil.