Smee & Ford and charity legacy notifications – all change?

Planning and forecasting around legacies is a problem many charities suffer from. One thing that charities can currently do is subscribe to a paid-for notification service provided by Smee & Ford, which essentially notifies charities of the existence of a legacy and some basic information, such as the date of the grant, the identity and contact details of the executors, and the size of the estate. The system – which provides information in conjunction with HM Courts & Tribunals Service (“HMCTS”) – is not perfect, and charities have reported problems with the timeliness and accuracy of notifications.

Charity Legacies

On 31 January 2019 HMCTS announced that it will shortly be ending its current arrangement with Smee & Ford, due to inconsistencies between the service and HMCTS’ “legal duties”. At this stage it is not clear what particular issues are troubling HMCTS. It may in part be due to the introduction of GDPR, bearing in mind Smee & Ford notifications include information about living people (i.e. the executors named in the will). If so, any replacement notification service will surely be less useful to charities, as one of the current system’s advantages is that it enables charities to contact executors who may not have already informed a charity about a legacy.

Whatever HMCTS’ reason for wishing to implement change, it has made clear in an open letter sent to all affected charities that it intends to work collaboratively with the charity sector and others (including Smee & Ford) to create a new and sustainable notification arrangement “that works for charities”. To that end it has invited representatives from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Institute of Fundraising, and the Institute of Legacy Management, to join a working group to canvass and collate the views of the sector. The consultation presents an opportunity for charities to speak up about what additional or alternative service offering(s) they would like to see in place, and we would encourage all those with experience of the current arrangements – good or bad – to take the opportunity to get involved.

As ever, we will keep our readers updated of developments.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of February 5, 2019.