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Death, taxes and charity: let's talk about gift giving in wills

21 November 2017

People believe that legal advisers should provide information about leaving money to charity when discussing wills, but many advisers are more comfortable talking death and taxes than they are about legacy giving. Rob Cope, director of campaigning organisation and charity consortium Remember A Charity, shares why it’s important.

When I made my will

With my own will-writing experience a few years ago, I can remember feeling that something was missing. Why wasn’t my solicitor asking me about anything I cared about beyond my family and friends? She didn’t mention leaving money to charity to me. I had to take the lead. The truth is that if I hadn’t been in this line of work, no matter how closely connected I felt to charities, I doubt I would have thought about it. And when my colleagues and I talk to people about their views of legacy giving, we hear similar tales.

The local children’s hospital that saved my daughter’s life

If my solicitor had mentioned it, I would have talked about the local children’s hospital that saved my daughter’s life. I would have explained that I see a legacy donation to the hospital (which I have made provision for in my own will) as a chance to say thank you, and to make sure those life-saving services continue for generations.

We need to talk about gift giving

Our solicitor tracking study, carried out by Future Thinking, shows that 72 per cent of solicitors and will-writers are ‘always or sometimes’ mentioning the tax breaks of legacy giving in wills, up from 61 per cent in 2009. This leaves many advisers who are still not discussing charitable bequests with clients, though many of their clients will care about the work of charities close to their hearts, but have no idea that they could support them in their wills.  

In our experience, it is simply that advisers believe clients already know what the options are and that they have made up their minds about who they’re going to leave money to.  We live busy, complicated lives, with extended families. Making a will can be difficult to think about and to plan who should get what when we pass on, even if there isn’t going to be that much in the pot.

Some advisers tell us that they feel awkward or uncomfortable addressing what could be a sensitive issue. Others are nervous about potentially depriving family members of their inheritance. We would always encourage people to think about their family and friends’ needs first and foremost, before considering the charities that they care about, and ideally to discuss their intentions with their family too.

75% of us give to charity regularly in our lifetime  

Thirty-five per cent of us would be happy to leave a gift to charity in our will* but only around six per cent of us do.  To me, this shows the difference that good advice to a client can make.

Gifts in wills play a massive role in supporting the work of many of Britain’s much-loved and valued charities. They already fund more than half of Marie Curie hospices and one in six children in NSPCC care. The latest yearly figures from Legacy Foresight values legacies at £2.8 billion annually. Just a small increase in the number of people leaving charitable bequests could make a significant difference in vital funding for charitable services.

Solicitors aren’t fundraisers but have a duty to mention all the options

Of course, solicitors aren’t fundraisers – it certainly isn’t what they are meant or expected to do. But they do have a duty to give clients all the options when it comes to writing a will.  Many potential charity supporters don’t realise that they can leave some money, any sum to any charity.

Just by including a reference to the option of including a charity in your will, research from the Behavioural Insights Team has shown that advisers can double the amount of people that choose to leave a donation.

Making legacy giving a social norm

We’re fortunate that the Law Society and government are supporting us in our drive to increase awareness around charitable bequests by writing to solicitors and will-writers to encourage them to raise the issue with clients.

Legal advisers have an opportunity to make a huge difference to the satisfaction of their clients, especially for those where a charity has played a key role in their family’s life.  The benefit to charities would be significant.  We estimate that just a four per cent increase in people leaving a charitable legacy would raise an extra £1 billion for good causes.  

Imagine what a difference it could make if legacy giving were to become a social norm.  


*35% stat: TNS, Legacy Giving, 2008 (internal study for RAC members)

Remember A Charity is a nationwide campaign with over 160 charities, working collaboratively with a range of audiences to raise awareness of legacy giving and help make it become a social norm. It was launched in 2002.

Explore the 2018 Law Society Gazette Charity & Appeals Directory, a useful tool to check the information required when your client is writing a charitable gift into their will

Tags: wills

About the author

Rob Cope is director of Remember A Charity, the national campaign that promotes charitable gifts in wills. He is on the board of Relief International and has previously worked for various charitable organisations including The Prince's Trust.
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