RSPCA wins court battle over legacy

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THE RSPCA has won a court appeal that challenged the amount of an inheritance left by a man to his family and friends.

George Mason, from Gosport, died in June 2007 aged 75.

In his will, he gave his 85-year-old brother John and friends Norman and Patricia Sharp the maximum he could without them having to pay inheritance tax - 300,000.

He left the rest of his 950,000 estate to the animal charity. But the Sharps and John contested that they should also get Mr Mason's Gosport home.

This meant the remainder of Mr Mason's estate would become liable for inheritance tax at 40 per cent.

The charity would then have received 370,153 rather than 651,820.

The RSPCA fought the claim, but lost in February when a High Court judge ruled in favour of John and the Sharps. The charity was also ordered to pay the costs of the legal action in London.

At the time, High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Smith refused permission for an appeal. He said he hoped the RSPCA would accept his decision because an appeal would 'cause more concern and stress' to the brother and friends.

But that ruling has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal - which decided in the animal charity's favour.

It was decided that George Mason had intentionally written his will so as to avoid meeting the inheritance tax threshold. There may now be a further appeal by Mr Mason and the Sharps in the Supreme Court.

It was decided that George MClare Kelly, the solicitor representing John Mason, said he was finding the process 'distressing'.

'Our client is very disappointed with the judgement of the Court of Appeal and is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court,' she said.

'We believe the interpretation adopted by the court, which suggests the will should be read first and foremost as an attempt to avoid tax, is incorrect and attributed to the testator an understanding of the technical workings of the Inheritance Tax Act which we do not feel he had.

'However, we hope the uncertainty created by this matter does not prevent people from remembering charities in their will.'

Mark Watts, the RSPCA's chief executive, said: 'We will continue to respect the wishes of its benefactors.

'We will not lightly surrender legacies left in good faith and in the belief the funds will be used to combat cruelty to animals.

'We remain grateful to Mr Mason for his generosity in remembering our work for animals.'