RSPCA wins appeal over disputed will

Disagreement over inheritance tax settled in the animal charity's favour

Court of Appeal: reverses judgement against the RSPCA
Court of Appeal: reverses judgement against the RSPCA

The Court of Appeal has reversed a judgement against the RSPCA that deprived it of £281,000 from a disputed will worth around £900,000.

The ruling, published yesterday (tues), also reverses an earlier judgement that it should pay the legal costs of beneficiaries who brought an appeal against the interpretation of the will.

The case centred on the will of George Mason, who died in 2007. He left instructions in his will that his estate should be split between the animal charity and three other people. His will said he wanted the individuals – his brother and two friends – to receive the maximum he could give without breaching the inheritance tax threshold – then £300,000 ­– with the remainder going to the RSPCA.

The RSPCA challenged the executors' interpretation of the will, but a High Court judge confirmed in February that the three beneficiaries should receive parts of the estate worth about £469,000. The inheritance tax on this amount would have been £112,000 and would have come out of the RSPCA’s share of the money.

The judge also ordered the charity to pay the beneficiaries’ legal costs on an indemnity basis – the highest level that can be awarded – and refused the charity permission to appeal.

In May Lord Justice Rimer overturned a ruling that prevented the charity from appealing.

The decision in the latest hearing, which took place last month, says the RSPCA was right in its claim that the amount going to the three other beneficiaries should be capped at £300,000.

It means the charity will receive a total of £583,000, instead of £302,000 under the previous judgement.

Paul Hewitt, a partner at Withers LLP, the solicitors who represented the RSPCA, said the decision reflected the true intentions in Mason’s will. "We believe it is clear that he wanted to benefit his friends, his brother and the charity and avoid anyone paying inheritance tax," he said.

Clare Kelly, a solicitor at the law firm Anthony Gold that represented Mason’s brother, said: "Our client is very disappointed with the judgment of the Court of Appeal and is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. 

"We believe that the interpretation adopted by the court, which suggests that the will should be read first and foremost as an attempt to avoid tax, is incorrect and attributes to the testator an understanding of the technical workings of the Inheritance Tax Act which we do not feel that he had."

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