Cancer Research UK is the highest earner of legacy income, according to research based on charities' most recent accounts.
The most recent Charity Market Monitor report, compiled by Cathy Pharoah of Cass Business School for Caritas Data, showed that the charity received £147.88m from legacies in 2007//08.
Cancer Research UK received more than half as much again as the next highest earner, the RNLI, which received £94.50m. The third highest earner was the RSPCA, with £63.13m.
The research found that legacies were an important and growing source of income for the top 300 fundraising charities, which saw their income grow by 8 per cent in real terms compared with the previous year to £1.35bn.
Legacies made up 26 per cent of the top 300's total fundraising income, and 183 of them reported significant income from legacies.
However, the report suggested that the effects of the recession on house and share prices were not reflected in charities' most recent accounts because of the time lag involved in converting legacies into cash.
"Legacies now represent about a quarter of the fundraised income of the largest fundraising charities, and are central to their major gift fundraising success," the report said. "This means that charities are particularly anxious about fall-out from the recession on legacy values."
The report also showed that legacy income was already falling for charities outside the top 300.
"Legacy income in the rest of the sector is already either static or has declined in value," the report said. "A broader sample shows that the growth in income from legacies among the top 1,300 charities was just 5.3 per cent over the years 2003 to 2007."
Top 10 Legacy earners
Cancer Research UK – £147.88m
RNLI – £94.50m
RSPCA – £63.13m
The National Trust – £57.79m
British Heart Foundation – £49.79m
Macmillan Cancer Support – £40.92m
The Salvation Army Trust – £40.83m
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – £39.04m
PDSA – £36.42m
RNIB – £33.57m