Court ruling shows how incorrect charity names can lead to missed funding

The importance of clearly stated charity names and maintaining close relationships with supporters have been underlined by a new court ruling.

A charity law expert at Thursfields Solicitors was commenting after a High Court judgment on the interpretation of legacy gifts to mis-described charities in the £1.2m will of Barrie Williams.

The retired professional racing driver had instructed parts of his estate to be shared between organisations including the British Racing Drivers Club Benevolent Fund and the Cancer Research Fund.

But because there are no charities with those exact names, the executor of the will was unable to proceed with its administration and the case went to the High Court.

Katherine Ellis, a senior associate solicitor in the Charities and Communities department explained that the court decided the first gift was most likely intended for the British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity, with which Mr Williams had a long-standing affiliation.

But she highlighted that the court took a different approach to the gift left to the Cancer Research Fund and ruled this legacy was for the general charitable purpose of cancer research – without specifying which charities should receive the funds.

Katherine, who before her role at Thursfields worked in-house advising on legacy issues for a large national charity, said: “This ruling shows the importance of charities having clear web pages and literature dedicated to gifts in wills which includes their full charity details – name, address and registered charity number.

“They should also develop and maintain close relationships with supporters, keeping full and accurate records – something which was crucial in the ruling regarding the gift to the British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity.

“There are legal principles in place which allow the courts to save charitable legacies where possible when complications such as these arise.

“However, it is imperative that charities seek professional advice in such instances to make sure they have the best chance of keeping legacy gifts that were meant for them.”

Charities that might need advice in the legal issues surrounding charity legacies and gifts in wills can contact Katherine Ellis on 0345 20 73 72 8 or email

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