The Law Society Gazette has published an article on charitable giving in wills, stemming from a recent roundtable which I attended. We heard some fascinating perspectives from solicitors who draft wills, and act as executors, on their day-to-day experience in talking to clients about leaving a gift to charity.
As my work focuses on defending charities’ interests when it comes to legacy giving, I was interested to gather what useful takeaways I could for charities. One of the standout points for me concerned wider will-making trends.
Nationwide, the stats on will-making are dispiriting. Almost 60% of adults in Britain don’t have a will, which doesn’t bode well for charities – how can someone leave a charitable gift if they haven’t created a will to begin with?
I think there’s a national need to tackle the lack of knowledge amongst the public on what happens when you don’t make a will. We need to spread the positive message that making a will gives you control over your assets and lets you make sure your wishes are respected. As major beneficiaries of legacies in the UK, it’s crucial that charities be a part of this conversation.
Key life moments are an ideal time for individuals to think about their legacy – and perhaps for the government to remind people of the importance of will making and of the potentially negative implications of dying intestate. When it comes to officially registering key life moments – a house purchase, a marriage, the birth of a child – could the government not introduce a prompt to people to consider making a will? It could be of benefit to charities to have will-writing become more commonplace.
Of course, charities do already take an active role in promoting will-writing, most obviously through will-writing campaigns. This sparked some interesting debate at the roundtable. Do these campaigns drive a race to the bottom, and discourage potentially large donors from leaving sizeable sums, by signposting to more modest amounts? Do they leave people woefully ill-advised because the will-writers are simply not paid enough to do more than draft a very basic will? Or are they an essential tool in driving more wills and by extension, more charitable gifts?
I personally think a will-writing campaign can be beneficial to charities, but it needs to be carefully structured and targeted in the right way, with prompts to encourage testators to take appropriate advice particularly where the estate is less than straight-forward. This is important not only for testators, but for beneficiaries (including charities!), who will ultimately benefit from a robust and well drafted will and from the testator receiving advice regarding potential issues such as avoiding disputes down the road.
Whether your charity engages in will-writing campaigns or not, it’s vital that all charities stay at the forefront of conversations around will-making trends – it’s squarely in your interest to do so.
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.
Posted on 19/07/2018 in Legal UpdatesBack to Knowledge