Concern over legacy fundraising as will executor is 'bombarded by begging charities'

By Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector Online, 18 August 2011

Legacy fundraising

Legacy fundraising

Charity worker complains to organisations that asked for donations from his mother-in-law's estate even though she had named beneficiaries

A charity worker has raised concerns about legacy fundraising after receiving 58 "begging letters" from charities when he became the executor of his mother-in-law’s estate.

Marcus Watkins, head of finance and administration at Christian Medical Fellowship, said his mother-in-law’s will specified that £20,000 should be left to charities named on a list that she had signed.

He said he and his sister-in-law were granted probate on the will in March 2011, and between May and July they had received letters from 58 charities – including several household names – asking them to consider leaving some of the estate to them.

"My mother-in-law made it clear in her will that she wanted her money to be given to those charities that she had named," he said.

"I feel bombarded by these begging charities, which seem to presume we will ignore her wishes. They have upset me and my family at a difficult time, and have alienated us to their cause."

Watkins has complained to the charities, some of which have changed their policies on legacy fundraising as a result. The international development charity Practical Action is one of those.

Mary Harwood, a legacy officer at the charity, said that as a result of Watkins' complaint it has stopped writing to individuals who are appointed as executors of wills to ask for donations.

"We were surprised to learn that Mr Watkins had received letters from so many charities, and we weren’t aware of the list," she said. "We are very upset to have caused him such distress and, as a result, we have stopped this practice completely."

She said the practice had not been commonplace at the charity, and it had written to individual executors no more than 10 times a year for the past three or four years.

Watkins said some of the charities had been given his details by Smee & Ford, a firm that identifies bequests left to charity and notifies the charities concerned.

A spokeswoman for the company said it was unable to say how many charities it had given Watkins’ details to. It had given the details out because the will included a provision that he would have some discretion over which charities received the £20,000.

"We provide a valuable service to charities," she said. "We believe it was appropriate to notify charities of this particular will because the trustee had some discretion over which charities were granted the money.

"We made it very clear to charities that they should be sensitive in their approach, because we do not want to cause distress."

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