Legacy blog: Risks and opportunities in legacy fundraising

Bates Wells recently partnered with the Institute of Fundraising for its Legacy Fundraising Conference 2018. When I was asked to speak on the issue of contested wills, I wanted to celebrate the brilliant work done by charities and charity fundraisers, whilst providing practical guidance to avoid that work being undermined by the ever-increasing number of challenges to gifts left to charities by will.

In my session on “How to avoid contested wills in the context of legacy fundraising” I recounted some of the key issues and highlighted best practice with reference to the ever-useful Code of Fundraising Practice, which devotes a whole chapter to legacies.

This is a crucial issue for charities and charity fundraisers: very simply, avoiding contested wills means your charity hanging on to its legacy income. Whilst legacy income is currently the highest on record, the number of disputes over charitable gifts in wills has also risen. As has focus on charities and their fundraising practices, including in the mainstream media.

The area can be a minefield from a press and public relations perspective and a goldmine for tabloid journalists, particularly when the matter concerns an elderly or otherwise vulnerable donor. In my view, much of the criticism charities face is unfair and often unfounded: most charity fundraisers are not exerting undue pressure on vulnerable people or other donors. But the practical problem for charities is that it is only too easy for a disgruntled friend or family member to attack a will in favour of a charity by claiming that the charity took advantage of an elderly person for example.

Legacy professionals well know that such claims are often driven by upset, or by perception of how a charity has conducted itself in a particular circumstance. In my session I ran through best practice to avoid claims likely to be most relevant to legacy fundraisers, including claims of undue influence or lack of mental capacity. Importantly, the best practice I set out is not just to avoid legal challenges, but also the perception of wrongdoing by charities, which can lead to claims – or negative PR – however unmeritorious or unfair.

If you missed the session and would like to discuss any of the issues please do drop me an email.

Leticia Jennings is a Dispute Resolution & Litigation partner, and co-leads the firm’s Legacies, Trusts & Probate Disputes team. She regularly speaks at industry events, and contributes commentary and know-how to leading publications.

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 October 9, 2018.