Freelance Fundraiser’s Jottings

17 February 2008

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legacy challenge

The family of an expelled member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect has called for their charitable organisation, the Watchtower Society, to return a £100,000 legacy that they had been left by him.

Donald Kennett had been a member of the religious sect since the 1980s, but was “disfellowshipped” from his local group in 2001, because they disapproved of him trying to convert local prostitutes.

Martin Davis, a cousin of Mr Kennett, said that Mr Kennett’s mother had left half her Estate to Mr Kennett in 1994 and the other half to an autistic nephew. Although the charity had a legal right to keep the money, (it is clearly written in the Will), he felt that morally they would be in a very difficult position to do so, as it could damage their reputation by putting financial gain over and above their moral duty. It would appear from Mr Davis’ comments that Mr Kennett was treated as an outcast, once he’d been expelled, but the charity are still prepared to keep his money.

Mr Davis has asked the charity to give the money to the autistic nephew instead.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said it had advised the Trustees that although they had a legal obligation to use the funds for the benefit of their cause, they could ask for legal permission to make an ex-gratia payment, if that would result in the best interests of the charity.

A spokesperson for the Trustees of the Watchtower Society said, “The trustees sought guidance from the Commission and, after considering Davis’ submission in light of the advice, concluded that a payment would not be permitted.”.

One lesson to be learned from this case is that we should regularly re-visit our Wills, to make sure what’s in them still represents our intentions. Changes in our circumstances often affect what we have put into our Will and we may need to make changes as a result.

What do you think the charity should have done in this situation? Why not enter a comment?

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