Racing Driver's Inaccurate Will Leaves His Heirs with Unwelcome Headache

The task of administering your estate after your death will be made all the harder if your will is not drafted with the precision that only a professional can provide. That was certainly so in one case concerning a retired racing driver's will which failed accurately to identify the good causes he wished to benefit.

The man's estate was valued at over £1 million. By his will, he bequeathed his half share in a property to his mother if she survived him. She had done so by attaining the grand old age of 105. He granted his long-term partner the right to live in his home for the rest of her life and appointed a close friend as his executor.

Difficulties arose, however, because he left half of the residue of his estate to the 'British Racing Drivers' Club Benevolent Fund', although no such institution exists. He bequeathed a further 10 per cent of the residue to the 'Cancer Research Fund', a name which no registered charity in fact bears. The flaws in his will required his executor to launch proceedings, seeking guidance from the High Court.

Given the man's profession and membership of the British Racing Drivers' Club, the Court found that the only likely target of the first gift was the British Racing Drivers' Motor Sport Charity. The charity supports members of the club and others involved in the sport in times of need and could thus be described as a benevolent fund. It is the sole charity run by the club and the Court concluded that it was the only credible candidate for the gift.

Turning to the second gift, the Court noted that the words 'Cancer Research Fund' are ambiguous and might refer to any charitable organisation devoted to finding a cure for cancer. The man had no strong connection to any particular cancer research charity and there was no evidence indicating that he had any such charity in mind when he made his will. The Court found that the gift was held by the executor on trust for the charitable purpose of funding cancer research. On that basis, the executor was empowered to distribute the gift between relevant charities of his choosing.

A further complication arose because the man's partner had launched separate proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 seeking reasonable financial provision from his estate. Distribution of the estate could not take place until those proceedings were resolved. Given her advanced age, however, the Court ruled that the man's mother should straight away receive the relatively modest gift that was due to her under the will.