A couple of years ago, just after my partner David and I took the plunge and bought our first place together, we sat down, finally (despite my having worked in legacy giving for nearly 8 years and he being one of the most organised people you are ever likely to meet) to discuss our wills.
Professionally, I know that gifts in wills are the cornerstone of funding for many UK charities – set to contribute £13.6 billion to our sector over the next 5 years – and that without those gifts many charities simply wouldn’t be able to do the work they do. As Chief Executive at the Institute of Legacy Management, I also know that our members, through the application of their knowledge and expertise, are responsible for the successful administration of over £2 billion of legacy income every year. But, as we sat staring at the blank sheet of paper not quite knowing where to start, this suddenly felt like something very different.
Having made the decision to write our wills we, although only with the cursory consideration befitting our young years, we had to accept the fact that one day we were going to die. In very practical terms we’d also acknowledged that we had a responsibility to each other to put our affairs in order. Having ensured David was provided for by a life interest in the property (we are in a very modern and unromantic way tenants in common) and that my nephew (probably the only family member surviving by the time I die) would inherit thereafter, I came quite quickly to considerations of more personal matter.
Having disposed of my principal asset there really wasn’t that much left to divide up but it felt really important that I ‘get it right’. I wanted to ensure that somehow my memory would live on through my support for the things I had enjoyed whilst alive and yes, the causes I had believed in too. It’s not easy trying to express emotions in percentage share terms! What the loved ones I left behind might think was also important. Don’t we all want to be remembered fondly once we’re gone? After much soul searching I eventually found a way to divide up my ‘assets’ that felt acceptable. It took several return visits to get the final document drafted and properly executed (well I hope it was anyway!). Now safely stored away, barring any major changes in my circumstances, this is not a process I plan to repeat for many years to come.
Nice story I hear you say, but what does this mean for me as a legacy professional?
Given the relentless scrutiny from the press, and the changing nature of our donors (not least the rise of the Baby Boomers) I believe that it’s more important than ever that we work together to ensure that every donor’s final wishes achieve their greatest potential. To support this goal, we need to re-personalise the legacy giving experience; to help donors be remembered and support our organisations – as I was able to do – in the way that they want to.
We mustn’t allow ourselves or our organisations to think about legacies coldly, as nothing more than a lucrative income stream. If we do, we risk jeopardising the very future of those legacies. If we forget the people behind the figures, and the motivations behind those gifts, we risk damaging the bond we as charities have with our donors and their families. We also risk the reputation of the legacy (and indeed the charity) sector, among the general public, and those who help them make those gifts – namely solicitors, will writers, and lay executors.
That’s why we, as legacy professionals – whether we work in administration or fundraising – must remain committed to using a personalised approach to our work, remaining focused on the true nature of what we are doing.
My own experience of will writing gave me first-hand insight into the process and the very personal nature of the decisions which have to be made. As legacy professionals we need to work together at every stage of their journey, to guarantee that donors and their final wishes are respected. Every legacy is unique – let’s make sure we treat them that way.
Legacy Viewpoint provides a space for people in the legacy sector to express their opinions. These opinions are not necessarily the same as Legacy Foresight’s, but our purpose is to stimulate new ideas and debate.