The RSPCA has won its appeal over the legacy of George Mason, and will receive more than two-thirds of the £1m will.
The court found in favour of the RSPCA’s interpretation that Mason wished to leave just £300,000 to his brother John and two friends, Norman and Patricia, the maximum that could at the time be left while remaining exempt from inheritance tax.
The charity argued that it should receive the rest, worth £651,820, whereas Mason’s friends and family had argued they should receive his house on top of the £300,000, leaving the charity with just £370,153.
The decision is a welcome boost for the charity, which late last month lost its appeal over another legacy, a £2m farm left by university lecturer Dr Christine Gill.
The Court of Appeal unanimously found in favour of the charity. Lord Justice Patten said: “The will does not disclose a misunderstanding of inheritance tax nor does it permit the clause to be construed as [the barrister for the friends and brother] contends.”
It also found that the judge was wrong to penalise the charity on costs.
Paul Hewitt of Withers LLP, who represented the charity, said: "We believe it is clear that he wanted to benefit his friends, his brother and the charity and avoid anyone paying inheritance tax. His friends and brother still receive legacies totalling £300,000.”
He added: “"The RSPCA tried to resolve this matter including repeated offers of face-to-face meetings but these offers were refused.”
RSPCA chief executive Mark Watts said: “The RSPCA will continue to respect the wishes of its benefactors. It will not lightly surrender legacies left in good faith and in the belief that the funds will be used to combat cruelty to animals.
“We remain extremely grateful to Mr Mason for his generosity in remembering our work for animals which has continued since 1824.”