​Lawyers, Legacies and Charities - Getting the partnership right.

​Lawyers, Legacies and Charities - Getting the partnership right.

Recent research suggests that there is often tension between charities and their legacy officers with private client lawyers and probate practitioners. The lawyers in particular felt that the charity legacy officers were "stepping on their toes".

The research suggested a two way street with criticism and comments being made each way. Probate lawyers dislike the frequency with which charity legacy officers contacted them with many disapproving at the tone adopted by charities in contacting them. Perhaps most worryingly very few probate practitioners consider that legacy officers provided a "caring compassionate and personalised" approach to their work whereas the majority of legacy officers thought that they did!

Set against this criticism the legacy officers themselves resented the probate practitioners reluctance to listen to advice and only about a third of those surveyed were satisfied that the probate practitioners were willing to accept assistance with charity law requirements and there was an overwhelming criticism of the lack of frequent updates. Perhaps most worrying was that about a third of legacy officers were concerned that probate practitioners did not understand tax!

The outcome of the report around the research has been commented upon as exposing potential shortcomings among some probate practitioners when dealing with technical issues that can give rise in the administration of estates involving charities and the regularity with which some mistakes are being made. One unexpected finding was that some probate professionals appear unenthusiastic about charitable giving with the survey suggesting only about a third stated that they actively prompt clients to consider leaving a gift to charity in their Will and very few encourage clients to consider making lifetime gifts to charities. More frequently than perhaps expected many probate practitioners suggested that they advise clients to consider leaving gifts to charity in a letter of wishes rather than an outright gift which is unpopular with charities because it makes it far less certain that the charity will receive any money.

With approximately £2 billion a year being left to charities in Wills the role and involvement of probate practitioners and charities working together is going to become increasingly important. Perhaps the research shows that the national charities who are very dependent upon gifts being made in Wills now have to take a very professional and "business-like" approach to this as the "business of a charity" includes receiving funds through Wills to ensure that charities can continue with their work. If the criticism of some charities is correct that on occasions some lawyers and will writers do not even know how to make proper provision for a gift in a Will naming a particular charity this is a fundamental flaw that needs to be addressed.

At Clapham & Collinge we have a very experienced Wills, Trusts and Probate Solicitors dealing with making a Will and also administering an estate after death whether charities are involved or not. That team working with our charities department is a very important part of the co-operation that we value highly between ourselves and charities whether they be local or national.

Commentary by Neale Grearson, Head of Clapham & Collinge Charity Department.

We offer a full range of legal services to our clients from the Charity sector, please see our dedicated webpage on our legal services for Charities for more information. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Brooke and Sheringham offices.