Raising funds through wills and charitable legacies

How to legally raise money for your charity through legacies and wills.

Applies to England and Wales

How your charity can benefit from legacies

Anyone can leave money to a charity in their will – this is known as a legacy. You can make it easier for people to leave a legacy to your charity as part of your fundraising activities.

Legacy fundraising is a delicate subject. You may have to deal with difficult situations such as talking to people about what happens after they die, or talking to family members after someone has died. You, your trustees and staff should be sensitive to all involved.

The Institute of Fundraising has guidance on the principles to be aware of, how to communicate with the public about legacies, and special groups for sharing ideas.

Charities paying for wills

Your charity may wish to help out with the cost of a will:

  • to support your charity’s aims – for example if your charity supports terminally ill people
  • as a fundraising plan to encourage people to donate in their wills

The Charity Commission recommends that no-one connected with your charity helps to prepare a will that contains a donation for your charity. This includes acting as a witness to the will. This helps to reduce any risk of a legal challenge.

For example a relative of an elderly person may feel that your charity wrongly persuaded that individual to give you money in their will.

You should also:

  • think about how your charity will benefit – are you sure that the cost of paying for the will is going to be less than the gift received?
  • be aware that everyone has a right to provide for their own family and friends – are you certain the individual doesn’t feel pressured to donate to your charity?

A will must follow certain legal requirements to be valid. For example it must be signed in front of two witnesses. If it isn’t done properly, your charity could lose out on the gift.

Find out more about how to write a will and leave legacies:

How to leave a gift to charity in your will – Remember a Charity

Making a will – The Law Society

Ethical issues for fundraising with legacies

Fundraising through legacies is a sensitive issue. It is important to follow best practice standards and put policies in place to avoid potential risks, such as:

  • a potential donor becoming too close to a fundraiser working for your charity – this may result in your employee receiving a gift in their will rather than your charity
  • a donor who chooses to donate to your charity over their own family – you may be approached by the family and asked to explain why this decision was made

The Institute of Fundraising has guidance on how to deal with ethical issues:

Ethical issues for legacy fundraising – Institute of Fundraising

Your charity can reduce the risk of a legal challenge against a will that you have paid for by putting simple safeguards in place. The commission recommends that you take your own legal advice regarding what precautions may be required for your charity:

Find a legal adviser

Legal advice clinics – LawWorks

The commission advises that donors should use their own solicitors to prepare their wills. If they do not have a solicitor, your charity can advise them to find one, but should not recommend a particular firm or individual.

The solicitor involved must be satisfied that the will reflects the donor’s wishes, and that the donor understands what effects their will will have. This should be recorded in writing.

Your charity should also ensure:

  • written clarification is given to the donor and solicitor explaining why you are offering to pay for the will and what procedures will be followed
  • the solicitor preparing the will makes it clear that they are acting solely in the interests of the donor, even though they are being paid by your charity
  • that the solicitor takes instructions only from the donor, not from your charity, and that this is confirmed in writing

Find out about laws and codes of practice relating to legacy fundraising:

Legacy fundraising – Institute of Fundraising

Will writing jargon buster – Remember a Charity

Published 23 May 2013