As more and more charities strive to seek legacies, more charities are energetically trying to find solicitors to help run a free or discounted Will service for their supporters.
At the same time, new providers are knocking on charity doors saying “We can come to your home to help make your Will” or “you can do it online in minutes” .
At the same time most of us are more than aware that the number of contested Wills is going through the roof (and often the roof of the courts). Some sources say contested charitable Wills have increased by over 500% in 10 years. This is mainly due to the increasing number of fragmented families.
Now before I go any further the reason I am concentrating on Wills, and not gifts in Wills, is because it ought to be crystal clear that you cannot make a gift in a Will without a Will. And solicitors make Wills and the current guidelines insist, rightly, that solicitors must be used – or members of the Institute of Professional Will writers.
But another big problem we have is getting people out of their bed to run to their solicitor. When you retire do you prefer to plan a holiday/cruise or go to a solicitor? It’s a no brainer – although booking a cruise on a dodgy ship might encourage a Will!
With this plethora of Will making schemes I began wondering what solicitors currently feel about charities. Especially considering the recent decision in the Supreme Court concerning the Ilott V Mitson case; the charities involved were brilliant in promoting the “freedom of choice” to do what we want in our Will. But it was another case which hit the headlines and might have riled many seeing charities “fight for their rightful assets”.
So we have started some research which is being done through retired solicitors who are charity volunteers. They visit their “old mates still in practice” or just contact local firms. So far this is a small survey with only three charities taking part – other charities are welcome to join in.
What disturbs me are the initial findings which, to summarise, feature solicitors (who are NOT willing to go public) expressing some incredibly vituperative views about some charities chasing them and their clients for the money. This has also been common amongst my focus groups when I meet family members who are executors on a relative’s estate.
This also reflects the views of many solicitors following the Gill Case in 2010. My understanding is that an email group of lawyers were really quite vicious about charity practice with many saying they would never recommend to a client to remember a charity in their Will.
Thankfully a few weeks ago The Institute of Legacy Management issued a best practice guide for charities.
Solicitors are incredibly important gatekeepers to charity legacy income, now valued at £2.5 billion. But how much has been lost or prevented by grumpy solicitors. And how much more could be lost if we do not address this issue head on.
It is absolutely right, in these times of fragile trust and confidence in the sector, to use the very best Will writers to ensure best practice is followed – i.e. solicitors rather than some cowboy outfit trying to become executors and take an unregulated amount in commission on the value of the estate.
It should be remembered that the world of Will writing is unregulated which is extraordinary.
In these times of new regulations resulting in nightmares concerning acquisition of new donors, we ought also to look at our potential enemies – some solicitors. May be the word enemies is too strong because none of know the actual split between friendly and unfriendly solicitors.
But research done by retired insiders makes me believe the outcomes because they are trusted retired colleagues who know the game. It is not a simple survey on the phone or by questionnaire – it is an unattributed chat with an equal.
And we must remember that some of these solicitors are fighting the corner of their private clients in challenging a charitable Will.
The Will power of Solicitors is strong. And they are on both sides. We must strive to treat these gatekeepers and family members with more respect.