Five charities awarded share of estate after late discovery of will

The British Red Cross, WWF UK, Brooke, the RSPCA and the PDSA argued in court that they were due money from the sale of a house that should have been left to Patricia Deeley

Five animal and humanitarian charities have won a share of an estate worth at least £500,000 after a will was discovered six years after the death of the person who made it.

Patricia Deeley died in 2014, leaving her entire estate to the British Red Cross, WWF UK, the horse and donkey charity Brooke, the RSPCA and the veterinary charity the PDSA. But it turned out that her estate was worth considerably more than she had realised.

Deeley’s partner Peter Harding had died in 2008 and it was believed he had died without making a will.

Harding owned the house the couple had lived in for more than 40 years – with no will in evidence, the property and the rest of his estate was due to pass to other people.

Deeley made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, arguing that Harding had not made reasonable provision for her. In 2011 she was awarded a life interest in the house, allowing her to stay in it for the rest of her life but recognising that she did not own it.

But after she died in 2014, her executor discovered Harding’s will, which left the house to her outright.

The property had since been sold by Harding’s intestate beneficiaries and the charities argued they were entitled to a share of the proceeds.

In a ruling made last week, Judge Elizabeth Cooke agreed, overturning the 2011 ruling that awarded the house to Deeley for her lifetime and to Harding’s beneficiaries after her death, because it had been made on the basis of a mistake. She awarded the money to the charities.

Paul Hewitt, a partner at Withers, the law firm that represented the charities, said: "A lost will is a common cause of inheritance disputes, and it is a shame that the woman concerned in this case never discovered that her partner had in fact left her a very generous legacy in his will.

"The charities made a real effort to ensure that the intestate beneficiaries had it explained to them that there had in fact always been a will. They accepted that they should never have been awarded the property and wanted to respect Mr Harding’s wishes."

The case came just over a week after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Blue Cross, the RSPB and the RSPCA in a long-running £500,000 legacy case brought by Heather Ilott under the same legislation Deeley used to make her original claim.

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