Judge rules RSPCA must pay legal bill for beneficiaries in legacy case

High Court dismisses charity's claim for £650,000 and orders it to pay highest level of costs

A High Court judge has told the RSPCA to pay the legal costs of the beneficiaries of a will worth about £950,000 after it took them to court.

The dispute began after George Mason, who died in 2007, left instructions in his will that his estate should be split between the animal charity and three other people.

Mason said he wanted the individuals - his brother and two friends - to receive the maximum he could give without breaching what was then a £300,000 inheritance tax threshold, with the remainder going to the RSPCA.

The RSPCA contended that this meant the three beneficiaries should receive a total of only £300,000, leaving it to inherit about £650,000.

But last week Justice Peter Smith dismissed the claim concerning Mason's will and ordered the RSPCA to pay the costs of the legal action on an indemnity basis - the highest level that can be awarded.

The judge ruled that Mason's brother and two friends should receive sections of the estate worth around £469,000 in total, which would incur inheritance tax of around £100,000. The remainder, of around £370,000, will go to the charity. The amount of legal costs it will have to pay has not yet been determined.

The judge also refused the charity permission to appeal.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "The RSPCA has sought to honour what we believe was Mr Mason's clear intention to avoid anyone paying inheritance tax. We have also been doing everything we reasonably can to resolve this matter, including repeated offers of face-to-face meetings to sort things out.

"The RSPCA is extremely grateful to Mr Mason for his generosity in remembering our work fighting cruelty to animals, and we had hoped this dispute could be resolved without the need for a day in court."

In October, the charity lost another legacy battle over an estate worth about £2m.

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