Legacy giving: the role of the practitioner

charity jarOn 18 October, my colleague Beatriz Brockhurst (STEP News Editor) and I attended the launch of Legacy Giving and Behavioural Insights – a research report which examined how will writers discussed charitable giving with their clients.

Bridging the gap

The research illustrates the gap between clients expressing an interest in leaving charitable gifts (35 per cent) and those who actually do so (6 per cent). The event considered the ways in which practitioners can encourage greater giving by testators, drawing on evidence gathered from eight law firms and 31 solicitors, as well as 2,600 wills that were analysed during the two-year study.

Having the conversation

As a starting point, professionals should be talking about charitable legacy with their clients as part of the will preparation process.

But are clients comfortable with having this conversation? The study found that 69 per cent of clients generally deemed it acceptable for such a topic to be raised – and 46 per cent regarded it as the duty of the professional to mention it.

Different approaches

The research trialled three different ways of talking to clients about charitable legacies:

  1. Social norm framing – informing the client that charitable bequests was something many people did, and to ask if they would like to do the same. Legacy giving increased by 40 per cent for people making their first will.
  2. Emotional framing – asking the client to think about charities they or their families were passionate about, and/or had benefited from. This type of messaging was found to increase donations from clients both with and without children.
  3. Posthumous benefit framing – highlighting the good work that would result from a charitable bequest. This was regarded as the least acceptable and least effective form of messaging.

Tax incentives

The study also found that, in most cases, the tax advantage of legacy giving due to inheritance tax thresholds was not a motivating factor.

A TEP’s perspective

Jo Summers TEP, a member of STEP’s UK Practice Committee, offered a practitioner’s point of view. She emphasised the need to broach the subject of charitable legacy carefully and sensitively, not least to protect against being regarded as having exercised undue influence. Jo cited the initial client questionnaire as a good way to introduce the topic, with scope for a further conversation, if the client indicated this would be appropriate.

Practitioners also need to be aware that the charity the client would like to leave a donation to could change over time. As a practical solution, Jo suggested the will could contain a clause stating a percentage legacy, or a fixed sum to be split between charities chosen by the executors, with a letter of wishes to indicate where the money should be donated, depending on the client’s family circumstances at the time of their death.


The study concludes that will clients are generally open to having a conversation about charitable legacy. Practitioners can therefore play an important role in raising the level of charitable donations as legacy gifts.

The report offers interesting behavioural insights around legacy giving – I encourage you to read it:


Sean Smith, STEP Policy Manager

Terrorist financing discussed in Vienna

Vienna ferris wheel. Photo Sean SmithThe Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Private Sector Consultative Forum in Vienna earlier this week explored measures to combat terrorist financing, writes STEP’s Sean Smith.

The first day focused on the risk of terrorist abuse in Non-Profit Organisations – a sector deemed vulnerable because of the resources they use and their geographical spread.

On the second day, the forum considered existing barriers to information sharing and how these could be eased to enable both the private and public sectors to more effectively communicate data, whilst respecting privacy laws.

The final session looked at correspondent banking and how such correspondent banking relationships are established and monitored.

The underlying themes across all of these discussions were reputation, standardisation and communication. In particular, how to build and maintain confidence in the financial and charitable sectors and agreeing definitions of key terms and principles, such as what constitutes a reasonable request for information (RFI), so that the private sector, governments and civil society can work together more effectively.

A delegate opened one of the sessions with the comment that these issues had been discussed many times over the years to the point where each meeting felt like Groundhog Day. That is hardly surprising as trying to balance the needs of charities and their beneficiaries, the financial sector, governments and citizens’ rights to privacy is anything but straightforward.

Thankfully, this meeting felt productive, with useful suggestions being raised, which sadly I can’t divulge just yet.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the FATF plenary, scheduled for 19-24 June in Busan, Republic of Korea.


Sean Smith, STEP Policy Manager

The road to compliance

Sean SmithJan Wright, of STEP’s UK Practice Committee, and I attended the HM Revenue & Customs Annual Stakeholder Conference today. We heard from Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP, that through policy changes and an investment of £800 million, the government was  striving hard to find ways to incentivise tax compliance and make the tax system as a whole easier to operate and understand.

HMRC is focused on tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance, as well as aggressive tax planning. They want digital businesses that deliver products and services into a market – without having physically set up in that location – to be taxed appropriately.HMRC Building

HMRC also issued four consultation documents today on new measures against offshore tax evasion, with further consultations and calls for evidence likely, coming out of the UK Budget last week.

Sean Smith, STEP Policy Manager

Answering the call for Mental Capacity Act best practice documents

Sean Smith

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) is working on behalf of the Department of Health to collate resources that prove useful in practitioners’ work in relation to mental capacity. To that end I am coordinating a response from STEP comprising useful practice materials that will be provided to the SCIE. STEP’s ‘Clarity on Capacity’ event in early September highlighted several key themes that should be addressed to generate best client service in cases of diminished capacity – one of which was knowledge sharing.

In the spirit of sharing to help clients suffering diminished capacity, I encourage STEP members and practitioners associated with the Mental Capacity Special Interest Group  to share best practice materials (be they guidance, online tools or other helpful resources). The deadline for submissions to STEP is Wednesday 5 November with the final collection of documents placed on a dedicated website for wide access.

Diminished capacity poses an ongoing challenge for practitioners and significant stress for clients and their families; sharing practice material now could benefit them in the future.

You can provide material to me at: [email protected]

Sean Smith, STEP Policy Manager

Lessons from ‘Clarity on Capacity’

Sean SmithIn London on 11 September 2014, over 80 practitioners, including both legal and medical professionals, came together to discuss the issue of testamentary capacity at the sold out event ‘Clarity on Capacity’, hosted by STEP’s UK Practice Committee in conjunction with the Mental Capacity Special Interest Group.

Following on from an article in the March 2014 STEP Journal which illustrated how recent court cases had provoked debate as to the suitability of the ‘golden rule’,[1] ‘Clarity on Capacity’ examined the duties of will writers to ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken to satisfy themselves that the testator has testamentary capacity. The event also explored how to reduce the risk of a will later being challenged on grounds of capacity.

The day comprised a mixture of presentation, panel debate and group work, beginning with an introduction to the capacity assessment tool being developed by the Mental Capacity Special Interest Group, which aims to assist will writers in ensuring practitioners deliver a robust assessment of capacity.

During the panel discussion, leading experts debated topics ranging from the interaction between the Mental Capacity Act (2005) and Banks v Goodfellow (1870)[2] to the practicality of securing timely medical advice in relation to capacity assessments.

Much of the day was devoted to a workshop format, with groups discussing questions related to best practice, collaboration with the medical profession, retention of evidence, appropriate charges and costs, and validity issues other than capacity.STEP_mental capacity_FINAL edit copy z3

Key themes to emerge from ‘Clarity on Capacity’:


Medical and will writing professions need to work together more effectively.

Suggestions from attendees as to how this could be achieved included joint qualifications/training from STEP and relevant medical bodies. Delegates also spoke about the need for a simple way to locate qualified medical practitioners in their local area, with charges for services clearly outlined.


Practitioners would benefit from practical guidance in a number of areas to ensure best practice and consistency of approach.

For example, guidance to ensure comprehensive note taking. Another suggestion was guidance from the medical profession so that will preparers were more alert to the potential medical issues of clients. This chimes with the issues raised in a recent STEP webinar in which James Ward TEP and Dr Nori Graham of Red and Yellow Care discussed fluctuating capacity, particularly when the client experienced intermittent capacity without an overt change in demeanour.

Learning from others

Practitioners should communicate with each other to share experiences and best practice.

In addition, in developing its guidance, STEP could learn from collaborative actions taken by other sectors, for example, the Pre-Action Protocol for Disease and Illness Claims.[3]

Through sharing their experiences and insights, all participants contributed to delivering a successful ‘Clarity on Capacity’ event. This spirit of collaboration is essential to address the key themes that came out of the event and ensure the needs and wishes of clients are met.

Sean Smith, STEP Policy Manager

[1] http://www.step.org/exceptions-golden-rule

[2] (1869-70) LR 5 QB 549

[3] http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/protocol/prot_dis