Charities should make sure they are aware about how any gifts from an estate are being handled to avoid missing out on legacies, Thursfields Solicitors has advised
The comments from the leading Midlands law firm follow an exceptional case where a jailed former Yorkshire solicitor is being sued by charities who were left money from an estate where she was co-executor.
Linda Box, a former partner with Wakefield firm Dixon Coles and Gill, was jailed for seven years in 2017 after admitting 12 offences of fraud, theft and forgery and was ultimately struck off the roll of solicitors.
Box now faces claims from Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Yorkshire Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation and the National Trust, who all allege she appropriated monies payable to them from the estate of the deceased Ernest Scholefield.
Katherine Ellis, a senior associate solicitor in the Charities and Communities department at Thursfields, said: “This was an extremely rare case, as the vast majority of executors and solicitors will deal with matters in an appropriate and lawful manner.
“However, we would advise that it is imperative that charities are vigilant when it comes to gifts left to them in Wills.
“Whilst charities are undoubtedly grateful for these gifts, they are still entitled to ask questions, seek updates, and obtain further specialist advice, particularly if they have concerns about the way in which the administration of an estate is being handled.
“In this case the charities involved were aware of the gifts left to them, and this will likely be because they subscribe to the Smee & Ford notification system, but I am often surprised at how many charities are not signed up to this service and simply rely on the executor to make them aware of their legacy.
“As a result they do run the risk of missing out on vital funds should an executor fail to make them aware of the gift.
“This may not always be due to fraud taking place – as in this rare case – it can also arise where an executor does not fully understand the law or there is an oversight when handling the administration.
“It is therefore crucial that charities are proactive, rather than simply reactive when it comes to gifts in Wills.”
Before joining Thursfields, Katherine Ellis spent a number of years working in-house for a large national charity based in London where she provided specialist advice and support on complex probate issues and contested legacy disputes.
She added: “Legacy giving has proved itself to be one of the more sustainable forms of charity income and it is imperative that charities now look to use all tools available to them to safeguard this vital income stream.”
Thursfields has wide experience of advising charities on legacy administration and management and anyone who needs assistance can contact Katherine Ellis by emailing email@example.com or calling her on 0121 647 5419.