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What are gifts in Wills? A guide to charitable giving in your Will

Woman discussing Wills

Whether or not you’ve heard of the term ‘gift in Will’ before, you might be familiar with charitable donations being included in Wills. If you’re already considering leaving something to an organisation or charity or want to know more about whether it’s the right decision for you, here’s our quick guide to gifts in Wills.

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What is a gift in your Will?

A gift in your Will is a donation made to charity in your Will. The amount of money you leave is entirely up to you. After family and loved ones are provided for, some people leave a set amount of money or a particular asset as a legacy gift, whereas others may choose to leave everything to an organisation or charity, like Cancer Research UK, who use this donation to fund important research.

The bottom line is that it is a totally personal decision on what kind of gift you would like to leave and to what organisation, and every donation, no matter how small, helps to fund charities’ vital work.

Many people who choose to pledge a gift in their Will do so because they can continue to make a difference after they’ve gone for future generations, and know that part of their estate is going to a good cause - one of their choosing.


Here’s what Gransnetters have to say on the forums about gifts in Wills:

“​​The upside is you are helping the charity of your choice.”

“I haven't written a Will yet, but charity donations are definitely an option. It'll be nice to know that some good will become of my money.”

​​”Provided my dosh is not eaten up with care home fees, the 10 charities I am leaving money to should do well once my London house has been sold.”

“We have recently updated our Wills, after about 15 years. As before we are leaving about 1/3 to charity and have specified 10 or 12 charities for it to be split between - ones that we regularly give to now. Our children have the rest between them and know we are leaving a share to charity.”

“We have both made Wills but have not left a legacy to our chosen charities. Next time we update our Wills I will do so, although whether to arrange for a lump sum or a percentage is a decision yet to be made.”

Why do charities need gifts in Wills?

Gifts in Wills are vital to charities, with many organisations relying on such funding, including to fund longer term research projects. In fact, gifts in Wills fund a third of Cancer Research UK research, and allows them to focus on four key areas: researching how some cancers can be prevented, bettering detection and diagnosis, developing new treatments and improving existing ones. By pledging a gift in your Will, you’re ensuring that researchers can continue this life-saving work and achieve their ambition of seeing three in four people survive cancer by 2034.

Who can leave a gift in their Will?

As long as you have assets to give, anyone with a legally valid Will can leave a gift in their Will. As you get older, you might be thinking about writing a Will - although it’s advisable to have a Will sorted regardless of your age for peace of mind - or updating one to reflect any changes in your wishes.

You don’t need to have millions in the bank too to make a big difference – a wide range of people leave a gift in their Will of varying amounts, and it’s important to remember that every penny makes a difference. You can even leave a specific item of value if you want, for example a car or piece of jewellery.

You can also leave a share, or the remainder, of your estate to a charity. As it’s less likely to be affected by inflation, it’s the best way to ensure the value of the gift you want to make is received. Here are some examples of how your money would help fund vital research at Cancer Research UK:

  • 2% of a £200,000 estate could buy a diamond knife to slice through cells to understand the inner workings of tumours and find new ways to target cancer’s weak spots.
  • £15,000 could fund the PETReA trial, which aims to help doctors decide how to treat lymphoma, for one month.
  • 15% of a £400,000 estate buys a DNA sequencing machine – an incredible appliance that allows scientists to analyse a huge amount of DNA very quickly, helping them to learn more about cancer.

To find out more about how to leave a gift in your Will, order your free guide here.

Given that one in two people[1] in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime, pledging a gift to a charity like Cancer Research UK can really make a difference and help to beat diseases like cancer for future generations. Here are three stories from people who’ve chosen to a gift in Will to Cancer Research UK and why leaving a legacy gift was important to them:

Sue Deans, 71

Sue legacy story pic

Sue is a retired English teacher and now works as a tutor. She has three grown-up children and a grandson and lives in Sutton with her two cats, Amber and Toffee.  Sue is also a legacy pledger for Cancer Research UK.

Having been diagnosed in 2007 with stage 3 melanoma, she underwent several rounds of surgery and has been healthy ever since.

“There wasn’t much understanding at the time about the risk of too much time spent in the sun, so I burnt a lot over the years. But now I’m always vigilant in keeping an eye out for anything unusual or persistent that might need to be checked. In February just gone, it was 13 years since my first diagnosis - I have beaten the odds!”

Following her own experience, Sue wants to help researchers find effective and kinder treatments for cancer so has pledged a gift in her Will to Cancer Research UK. She would like to encourage other people to do the same. “Pledging a gift is a positive thing to do – you can feel that in a small way you’re doing things to help stop cancer sooner for future generations.”


Jutlla Merharban Singh, 82

Jutlla legacy gift story

“My father had always been a very charitable man and, after he died, I followed in his footsteps supporting many causes. In 2004, my wife passed away from ovarian cancer – she was the ninth member of the family that we lost to cancer at that time. I found it so difficult without her, and, to help me, my son and daughter asked me why I was not doing more charity work like I had before."

Inspired by his children, Jutlla decided to pledge a residuary gift, meaning he has left everything in his Will, after his gifts have been distributed, to Cancer Research UK. “I realised I should do more. By pledging a gift in my Will, I feel I am playing a part in the research – it’s a very small part, but a very important part that will be felt for generations to come. 

“I have also visited some of CRUK’s labs and seen the scientists coming together from all over the world. When I see the information about progress that is made, I take a photo and put it in my file to show how much of a difference I have helped to make – it keeps me going and I feel so strongly that we should support this life-saving work through pledging a gift.”

Liz Roberts, 71

Liz legacy gifts story

“My youngest brother, Clive, died of leukaemia in 1996 when he was only 37 and I joined the local CRUK committee soon after that. In 2003, I had a melanoma removed - luckily it was a very shallow one and needed no follow-up treatment after it was removed. I had a biopsy and then a wide excision afterwards. Before I retired, I worked in a GP surgery so I’ve seen more than my fair share of people afflicted by cancer of all sorts.”

Liz is determined to carry on supporting Cancer Research UK, and has pledged a gift in her Will.

“Over the years I have lost several friends to breast cancer but, on the plus side, I also have several friends who have had successful treatment and are still enjoying life 15+ years on, thanks to research funded by these gifts in Wills.”

How can I leave a gift in Will?

If you are interested in leaving a gift to charity you will either need to write a new Will or update an existing one to reflect your change in wishes. Gransnet has a guide to making a Will here, which will give you an overview of how to go about the actual writing of your Will.

A lot of charities like Cancer Research offer a free Will writing service, where you can make or amend a Will with no cost to you. Many people that use this service choose to leave a gift in their Will to the charity, but there is no obligation to do so. If you are leaving a gift to charity, it’s worth researching whether that organisation offers a free service which you can use.

Here’s what Cancer Research has to say

“A third of our vital research is funded by gifts in Wills. We need this valuable support to fund more life-saving research. In the last 40 years, our research has helped double cancer survival in the UK from 1 in 4 to 2 in 4. We know from hearing our wonderful supporters’ stories that people have left us a gift in their Will because they are passionate about helping to beat cancer, so we hope you will consider supporting us in this way.”

Cancer Research UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1089464), Scotland (SC041666), the Isle of Man (1103) and Jersey (247).

[1] Ahmad AS et al., British Journal of Cancer, 2015.

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