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Expert Q&A: Leaving legacy gifts in Wills

legacy gifts in wills

Making a Will and deciding who to leave your assets to can be a complex process. If you've ever considered leaving a legacy gift, we've called on specialist Sarah Anderson from Cancer Research UK to answer your questions about charity gifts in Wills. From how much you should leave to issues like tax liability and informing family about your wishes, here's what you need to know.


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What happens if I leave some money to Cancer Research UK but then there isn't enough in my estate to pay?

"If there is no money in an estate to fulfil the gift, the gift won’t be received by the beneficiary. Don't worry, your executor - your family or your loved ones - won’t have to honour it if the estate doesn’t have enough funds to carry out your wishes in your Will."

Is the legacy liable to tax?

"A charitable gift is tax free. However, not all groups have charitable status, so do make sure your preferred organisation does if you're concerned about tax implications.

If your question is referring to inheritance tax, I suggest that you seek legal advice about your particular estate, or as an estimate you can use HMRC’s IHT calculators."

Who implements the payment when I pass?

"Whoever you name in your Will as your executor will be responsible for administrating your estate on your behalf and implementing any legacy gifts left in your Will. You can instruct more than one person to act as your executor (most people will consider having a minimum of two) and you can instruct either someone you know (a trusted friend or relative) or a solicitor to act on your behalf."

legacy gifts

What amount is one expected to leave? Is there a set amount?

"Any amount you leave as a gift in your Will to a charity will always have a huge impact and any amount you feel is appropriate is the right amount to leave to the charity you choose. Gifts in Wills are like building blocks - each block on its own can be any given size, but when they accumulate over time, they amount to something substantial and have a lasting effect on any charity's long-term goals. A legacy gift is the ultimate gift - it will safeguard the future of that charity's aims long after the supporter leaves it in their Will, and often will have an impact for years (and generations) after it's received. It's a long-term investment in your preferred charity's vision. Big or small, that's an amazing gift for any charity to receive!"

Is leaving a legacy in a Will using these free Wills supported by charities, equally as good as using a solicitor direct?

"Cancer Research UK's Free Will Service works in partnership with solicitors that we know are reputable and capable of providing impartial advice and support to those wishing to draw up a Will. However, often our supporters elect to use their own family solicitor as they have an existing and extensive relationship with them and know they will understand the detail and background of their estate. It’s up to the individual which option they use, as long as they have confidence in their ability to capture their wishes accurately within the Will. Terms and conditions apply to our Free Will Service so do make sure it's suitable for your circumstances, and above all, if you are working with a solicitor directly make sure they are accredited."

What is the best wording to use when you don't know how much money you will have to leave to multiple charities?

"The best way of addressing multiple gifts to charities when you don't know how much your estate will be worth is to leave a residuary gift, which is a proportion or percentage of your estate. The great thing about leaving this type of gift is that it doesn't drop in value over time. For example, if Bob left John £350 in his Will, and passed away in 1980, this would be a very different gift than if he passed away in 2020; £350 in 1980 is now the equivalent of £1,687 due to inflation and by leaving a specific figure (a pecuniary gift) John, will still only receive £350. However, if Bob left John 1/5th (or 20%) of his estate (a residuary gift) it will always be a fifth of that value regardless of when John receives it. Residuary gifts are consistent and a great way to support a charity."

Is it better to tell family you have left a legacy gift or better not?

"Wherever possible you should openly discuss your intentions with those affected by your Will, so that when the time comes it won’t come as a surprise to them. This way they can get answers as to why you've chosen to make the decisions you have and come to terms with them if needs be. It also means there is less chance of your Will being contested, as hopefully people will understand and be comfortable with why you made that decision. If you feel you cannot speak to your family, it is often helpful to discuss the reasons for the gift with the solicitor drafting the Will so they can make a note for the file."

charity gifts in wills

I am undecided as to whether to leave anything to a big organisation. Why? Because I have heard of people being harried for the bequest, and I don't like the thought of that happening to my family at such a distressing time. Does this happen with Cancer Research UK?

"At Cancer Research UK we understand that the executor of a Will is likely to be going through an extremely emotional period personally while doing their utmost to honour the wishes of a loved one. We aim to support them through this journey as best we can, and our team endeavour to keep in touch in a way that best suits the executor. As a charitable beneficiary, we also make sure we follow due diligence and are being compliant in when and how we receive our gift. This is something all registered charities are legally obliged to do."

Who decides what cancers are worth researching?

"Cancer Research UK supports research into all cancer types and much of what it funds has an impact far more broadly than just one cancer type. As a research funder, Cancer Research UK invites the research community to send their ideas for a research project, which Cancer Research UK then thoroughly assesses to ensure it funds the best research. Research that is deemed to be high-quality is then allocated funds. This occurs irrespective of the cancer type, meaning that the type of cancer being funded is dependent on the researcher’s application and the cancer types they proposed for their research to study.

In cases where there is an underrepresentation of researchers working on particular cancer types, and therefore too few applications being submitted, Cancer Research UK may set a new strategic priority: increasing research efforts in that cancer type. Here, the organisation will work with the research community to help stimulate it and encourage more research applications in this area.

You can elect to see your legacy gift used to fund research into a particular cancer, by an expression of wishes as part of your Will, where you state that wherever possible you would like your legacy gift to be used for research into oesophageal cancer, for example. This is called restricting the gift. As the beneficiary, we will always strive to honour that wish. If in the future if we are no longer researching that area of cancer as there was a greater need in a different area, we can redirect the funds to another vital area of research that needs it." 

I will have very little to leave as my small family will necessarily always come first, particularly as I now finally have a long awaited and cherished little grandson whose future I will definitely want to help towards. I just wondered if even a very small donation to Cancer Research UK would be helpful or might seem too embarrassing paltry and mean to even consider?

"Every gift – no matter how big or small – matters enormously. Cancer Research UK relies on people’s generosity to continue our life-saving work. Around a third of our pioneering research is funded by gifts left to us in Wills so it is so important that people continue supporting us in this way to enable us to keep up the pace of our work in the future."

To find out more about leaving a gift to Cancer Research UK in your Will, please visit cruk.org/legacy.

If anyone has any further questions about leaving a legacy gift to Cancer Research UK, please contact its supporter services anytime on [email protected].


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