An interesting Wills and probate case is developing involving several of the UK’s leading animal charities -- Friends Of The Animals, Dogs Trust, World Animal Protection, and Heart Research UK.
The case centres on the disputed estate of a woman called Tracey Leaning who died in 2015 at the age of 54. The plank concerns the validity of Ms Leaning's Will, with the animal charities claiming that her second Will, made shortly before her death, is invalid because her signature was written on a second piece of paper that was not stapled to the first (although both sheets of paper which constituted the rewritten Will were in the same sealed envelope and the signing was witnessed by two neighbours).
The disputed Will claim is only likely to amplify critics of animal charities who have accused them of sometimes being overzealous in the pursuit of charitable gifts. Furthermore, there have been claims charities’ use of businesses such as Prospecting For Gold Ltd to secretly assess the value of estates of people who make generous donations to charity is both aggressive and unethical.
According to reports, the deceased resolved to change her Will and to leave her £340,000 estate to her partner, Richard Guest, on the condition that he look after her three dogs; two terriers, Tilly and Eva and a spaniel, Ben. The earlier document, made eight years previously left the entirety of Ms Leaning's estate to the named animal charities.
Mr Guest has reportedly already incurred more than £10,000 in disputed probate legal fees and he says that the situation has left him facing additional trauma following the pain he already experienced in the wake of the death of Ms Leaning, who he met in 2008.
“They have put me through hell. I’ve had to relive my loss and face financial hardship to defend the wishes of someone I loved. I almost lost the will to live,” he said.
“It was only the realisation there would be nobody to care for Tracey’s dogs and the fact that she was relying upon me to do so which kept me going.”
While some reports of the case suggest the charities are taking the case to the High Court, it has not yet been listed.
This case highlights the difficulty faced by beneficiaries such as Mr Guest when dealing with Inheritance Act Claims made by legally savvy and powerful charity organisations. However, it also reminds us of the value that charities place on bequests in order to help them with the good work that they perform.
Unfortunately, as the recent Llot v Jackson case taught us, disputes of this nature can be contentious, expensive, drawn-out and distressing.
Legal advice is essential when writing or altering a Will and the Leaning case will help us understand just how far courts will go in favouring the interests of charities.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with an adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.