The value of legacy donations to charities fell by about £66m, or 3.4 per cent, last year, according to new figures from research body Legacy Foresight.
The research shows the legacy income of a consortium of 42 charities fell by £31m between December 2008 and December 2009. Given that the consortium's legacy income represents 47 per cent of the total legacy market, the Legacy Monitor report estimates that the total loss to the sector last year was £66m.
The report shows that members of the consortium received a total of £875m through legacies in 2009, compared with £906m in 2008 - a fall of 3.4 per cent.
"The legacy market is in the doldrums," the report says. "In the mid-noughties our consortium members were seeing legacy incomes grow by almost 6 per cent per annum.
"In the first quarter of 2008 the market stalled, and it has been slowly declining ever since."
The total value of residual bequests, in which the remainder of a person's estate is left to charity after specific amounts are allocated to others, fell by 5.5 per cent between December 2008 and December 2009.
But the value of cash legacies has increased steadily by about 5 per cent a year since 2003, the report says.