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Succession: How To Make A Success Of Charitable Giving In A Will

The finale of season three of Succession has aired and fans around the world are on tenterhooks as to what may come of media empire Waystar RoyCo and the squabbling family at the heart of it.

As a private client solicitor, I am of course much more fascinated with the sub-plot concerning hapless cousin Greg and his falling out with his hippy grandad Ewan. You will recall that Ewan had arranged for Greg to be represented by a lawyer of his choosing in the corporate WayStar court battles but Greg snubbed this choice. This led Ewan to inform Greg that he had written him out of his considerable entitlement in his will and instead directed it towards Greenpeace. This irked Greg hugely, to the extent that he considered legal proceedings, prompting his cousin’s husband Tom to remark “You’re going to sue Greenpeace? I like your style, Greg. Who do you think you’re going to go after next? Save the Children?”

Charitable gifting on death is no small business. Data from Smee & Ford, a specialist in legacy information, suggest that between 2010-11 and 2019-20 over a million charitable gifts were made in UK wills, which culminated in charities receiving over £23b in revenue.

However, what would the ramifications have been if Ewan’s change of track have occurred in England and Wales rather than the USA?

1. Although Greenpeace was founded in America, it has a charitable arm based in the UK and is therefore registered with the UK Charity Commission. Any gift made to a registered UK charity, either during life or on death, is free of inheritance tax (IHT). We were told that Greg’s entitlement from Ewan was $250m, which is around £189m. As IHT is taxed at 40%, this would mean a saving of around £75.6m. The UK government would no doubt have preferred to have such a sum in its coffers.

2. If the entitlement valued at £189m represented more than 10% of Ewan’s estate, then the rest of Ewan’s chargeable estate would be taxed at a reduced rate of 36% instead of 40%. This is a government incentive for people to leave significant charitable gifts in their wills.

3. As charities receive a significant amount of their funding through such gifts, it will come as no surprise that they employ legacy departments to monitor UK wills once they come to probate, as almost all wills are a matter of public record. This means that as soon as the will is made public, Greenpeace would be very interested in who is administering the estate and will no doubt contact them (repeatedly) to ascertain how the administration is proceeding and when they will receive their funds.

4. Could Greg sue Greenpeace? No… but under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, would Greg have standing to apply for financial provision of Ewan’s estate and thus hope for a Court to order he should receive a cut? He could if he:

  • a) was a spouse or civil partner of the deceased,
  • b) was a former unmarried spouse or civil partner of the deceased,
  •  c) lived as if he was a spouse or civil partner of the deceased,
  • d) was a child of the deceased,
  • e) was treated as if he was a child of the deceased, or
  • f) was being financially maintained by the deceased.

While children of the deceased are a category who have standing to apply, grandchildren are not. It seems that Greg was never particularly close to Ewan, nor was he financially dependent on him so, unfortunately for Greg, he cannot apply for financial provision.

5. How else would Greg be able to challenge his grandad’s will? He could argue that Ewan did not have mental capacity when he provided instructions to his lawyer. Perhaps Greg could argue that Ewan was suffering under the strain of being a member of such a dysfunctional and high-stakes family.

6. Alternatively if Greg did manage to convince Ewan to rewrite his will again to include Greg and disinherit Greenpeace, Greenpeace may then argue that Greg exerted undue influence or coerced his grandad into changing his mind.

We will have to wait to see if season four develops this story line. Even if it does not, it certainly shone a light on charitable giving by will, and Greenpeace’s legacy webpage saw a tenfold increase in traffic. They should watch out for Greg though. One thing we’ve learned is that you can’t trust anyone in Succession…