Charitable principle not enough
It seems trite to say that the law is what the law is, but in cases where a decision is reached that is correct under the law but which seems unfair, or not in accordance with an underlying principle, it will nevertheless stand.
There is a general principle in UK law that assets left on death to charities are excluded from the deceased person's estate for Inheritance Tax (IHT) purposes.
When a Jersey-domiciled woman died n 2007, she left a UK estate of some £1.8 million. This was left to a charity to benefit people in Jersey and a claim was made to exempt the assets from IHT.
However, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) argued that although it was not relevant that the charitable purposes for which it was established were for the benefit of people outside the UK, the fact that the charity concerned was established outside UK jurisdiction meant the claim had to be rejected.
The legal fight went all the way to the Court of Appeal, which has ruled in HMRC's favour, triggering an IHT charge of some £600,000.
A further appeal, based on European law against restrictions on the free movement of capital, is now being pursued.
In practical terms, this case is a reminder that the courts will normally enforce the letter of the law, not the principle of the action taken. Had the gift been to a UK charity established to carry out charitable activities in Jersey, the relief would have been granted.
Seemingly innocuous errors in drafting any legal document can have a significant impact and, when the document is a will, the error may not be able to be corrected after death. For expert advice on all aspects of estate protection and wills, contact us.
Please note we are unable to offer legal aid.