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Making a Will? Have You Accurately Identified Your Beneficiaries?

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One very good reason why you should sign an up-to-date and professionally drafted will is to ensure that your chosen beneficiaries are accurately identified. A High Court case on point concerned gifts to a cottage hospital that did not exist and to equally illusory maternity and children’s wards of another hospital.

The case concerned a couple who, by their wills, made various gifts to good causes, including the hospitals. There was no record of the cottage hospital named in the will ever having existed. The other hospital mentioned had become a specialist cardiac and cancer treatment centre and had neither a maternity nor a children’s ward. In those circumstances, the trustees of the will sought judicial guidance as to the correct destination of the gifts.

The Court found that the gift to the cottage hospital should go to an NHS trust that runs a community hospital which serves the same area. That was on the basis that the community hospital was the same as, or had subsumed the charitable functions of, the putative cottage hospital.

The gift to the other hospital was permissive, rather than mandatory, and could be read as conferring a discretion on the recipient. The gift thus did not fail due to the closure of the maternity and children’s wards and the NHS trust that ran that hospital was entitled to use it for its general charitable purposes.

In giving effect to the couple’s testamentary wishes, the Court also ruled that gifts of jewels and clothing that the woman had made to a close friend who had since died should go to the latter’s daughter. A gift to a parish church, which was not specifically named in the will, would go to the parochial church council of the parish within which the couple had lived for many years and were buried.

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