Dealing with charity beneficiaries is just one small element of the lay executors’ responsibilities following the death of a loved one. They are juggling a myriad of professional interactions – from funeral directors, to banks, to estate agents to HMCTS – while at the same time navigating close personal relationships made more poignant and perhaps fraught by bereavement. They are getting to grips with mountains of paperwork, making dozens of decisions – some tiny and some huge – in an alarmingly short timescale. They may be facing financial difficulties in the aftermath of the death. All this at a time when they are trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved one.

The challenge of how to steward lay executors is rising up the agenda for many of our clients. That’s why we are launching a new research project to explore how charities can manage these crucial relationships for the benefit of all parties : the family, the charity and of course the legacy donor.

As charities, there are four good reasons to manage lay executors to the utmost standards. Firstly – and this is fundamental for all charities – delivering on your values by safeguarding the interests of bereaved people, providing both practical guidance and emotional support at a difficult time. Secondly, on a more practical level, smoothing the estate management process – ensuring that charitable estates are settled quickly, with fewer errors and less aggravation for both parties. In an increasingly fractious climate, reputation management is also an important consideration – at worst avoiding negative publicity, and at best creating positive word of mouth. And last but not least, good supporter stewardship. As every legacy manager knows, if you build strong relationships with family and friends while administering the estate, in turn they may become donors, advocates or even legators in their own right.

Ultimately, we believe that managing lay executors well is vital to your whole organisation; it’s about balancing risk and reputation, maximising current income and securing future gifts.

Over the next six months we will be exploring the prevalence and process of lay executorship overall, and how interactions with charities fit into the picture. We will gain important insights into the decision-making process and into lay executors’ interactions with professional executors and other family members. Finally, we will consider the implications for legacy managers, legacy fundraisers and the wider charity team.

We are now inviting charities to join the Stewarding Lay Executors consortium. For an informal chat or if you would like to know more, please contact Meg Abdy.