Regulation with Rosie: Bequests

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on how to deal with bequests.

Hearts sink here at the commission when we are faced with sorting out bequests to 'the Better Sea Cats' Home' or the 'national charity for children'. More run-of-the-mill bequests can also become unnecessarily time-consuming when they aren't accompanied by probate.

Solicitors often send us letters advising us that a charity bequest has been made, enclosing what they believe is the relevant extract from the will. We need the entire will: our lawyers can't act on the directive without a copy of the will and the probate.

As well as confirming that the will is the most current version, a probate also confirms the executor's identity and gives a broad indication of the estate's value. Without probate, all our lawyers can do is go back to the solicitors and ask for it - and all work on administering the bequest stops until it has been received.

Where a probate hasn't already been granted, it has to be sought from the Probate Office, adding further delays. A death is traumatic enough for the testator's family and friends; unnecessary delays in ensuring charitable wishes in the will are carried out is the last thing they need.

So here are two important suggestions for those advising people on their wills. First, check the charity's name and that it still exists, and specify its registered charity number. Second, remember that things change. Hospital wards get built, equipment bought and property knocked down. A specific need at the time of writing the will may well have been met by the time funds are made available to the charity, so unrestricted funds will always be more practical for charities than restricted ones. And for those writing to us with news of a bequest - please ensure you send us the will and the probate. It makes everyone's lives easier.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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