Charities need to keep close to supporters, alert to potential legacies and inquisitive over administration processes to avoid being defrauded, according to Thursfields Solicitors.
The warning comes after a court heard how a solicitor had plundered a wealthy woman’s £1.6 million estate to buy a £580,000 home for himself after he was appointed executor of her estate.
The action by James Allie, who was also a Councillor for Brent in London, defrauded the Canon Collins Educational and Legal Assistance Trust charity which had been left the fortune and then had to launch a legal battle to retrieve it.
Katherine Ellis, a Senior Associate Solicitor at Thursfields’ Kidderminster office and an expert in charity law, said: “This case shows the importance of charities having an open dialogue with supporters wherever possible regarding legacy giving.
“There is also a need for charities to utilise all practical and legitimate measures available to them to ensure they are informed when they have been left a gift in a Will.
“And once they know they have a legacy, it is vital that charities keep a close eye on the administration process, regardless of who is overseeing this.
“They should ask appropriate questions and seek outside legal assistance if they have concerns regarding delays or the general handling of an estate in which they have an interest.”
In the fraud case, Allie has now been ordered to hand over the house and any remaining money from the estate, and the police and the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority are investigating the case. The charity is also seeking £72,000 in legal costs from him.
Katherine who before joining Thursfields worked in-house on legacy issues for a large national charity, added: “I have previously dealt with cases such as these, including a situation which resulted in a need to report a solicitor to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for investigation due to their mismanagement of estate funds. That solicitor was ultimately struck off by the SRA.”
“Whilst the majority of executors behave in an appropriate and lawful manner, this case highlights that there are instances when this is not always the case and, as in this case, the financial loss to those charities can be huge.”
She added: “Thursfields has the skills and experience to help any organisation deal with the growing trend of legacy giving.
“This includes cases where a charity wants an expert eye to closely watch an administration process to make sure the wishes of a deceased supporter are fully met.”
Anyone wanting to discuss a legacy matter can contact Katherine Ellis on 0121 647 5419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.