Number of charitable legacies down, but overall amount pledged is stable

Data from the legacy information company Smee & Ford says the number of wills with charitable bequests fell by 4,500 in 2019, but their value remained somewhere between £3bn and £3.1bn

The number of charitable legacies fell by 12 per cent last year, but the overall amount going to charity remained flat, new figures show.

Data from the legacy information company Smee & Ford shows that the number of charitable estates fell by 4,500 to 33,120 in 2019, but total charity legacy income held up at between £3bn and £3.1bn, similar to the 2018 value if a £400m bequest made in that year is disregarded.

A report on the data by Smee & Ford, due to be published next week, says the reasons for the fall could include a fall in the death rate and delays to the probate process, probably caused by a “sharp decline” in the number of grants of representation, which fell by 11 per cent in 2019.

A grant of representation is the document that is needed for someone to deal with the estate of someone who has died. Smee & Ford said the average time between the date of death and the date of probate rose from six months in 2015 to nine months last year.

The company said the proportion of legacies that were identified as having charitable gifts had remained constant at 14 per cent over the past three years.

In December, the legacy consortium Legacy Foresight said issues including ongoing changes to the probate service, including the closure of regional offices and the implementation of a new IT system, had contributed to the delays.

Smee & Ford, which has been running the service to notify charities about gifts in wills, had been due to lose its contract with the government, but it was announced in July that the company would run the service for at least a further 12 months until a long-term solution could be found.

Legacy Foresight estimated that charity legacy income was worth £3.2bn in 2019, but has warned that the figure could shrink by more than a quarter this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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