Digital is becoming an increasingly integral component of legacy giving, from promoting charity gifting online to more recent legislation allowing video witnesses
Last month, the digitisation of legacy giving stepped up a gear with the government announcing that video witnessing of wills can temporarily be allowed under law.
The new legal ruling has been introduced to make it easier for people to make wills during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legal ruling applies to wills made between the end of January this year to the end of January 2022.
Charity consortium Remember a Charity says the use of video in will making is a “major step forward” in legacy giving for good causes.
“Modernisation of UK Will-making is long overdue and, although the changes announced today are temporary measures, this could be a major step forward for legacy giving, making it easier for people to set out their final wishes.”
“Video is a great option when witnesses can’t be physically present, but it does needs to be treated cautiously, with care and consideration. And the role of legal and financial advisers will be critical in helping the public finalise their wishes legally, minimising the likelihood of dispute.
- Rob Cope – Director, Remember a Charity
Advising those making a will on using video call tools is a key way in which charities can help. They can also advise on how to ensure the process is legally binding.
The government stresses that witnessing pre-recorded videos is not permissible when making a will. The witnesses must be able to see the will being signed in real time.
In addition, the video call should be recorded and retained by those signing the will and their witnesses.
“This may assist a court in the event of a will being challenged - both in terms of whether the will was made in a legally valid way, but also to try and detect any indications of undue influence, fraud or lack of capacity.”
- Ministry of Justice guidance on video will witnessing.
Latest figures show how vital legacies are to the voluntary sector and why digital improvements are a welcome boost for this form of charity income.
Legacy giving had been on the increase until last year, with figures from Remember a Charity showing that
in 2017, 15.8% of wills included a charitable gift, compared to 12.2% in 2007.
But according to more recent figures, from Smee and Ford’s Legacy Trends 2020 Update, there has been a dip in legacy giving.
Between 2018 and 2019 there were 4,517 fewer charitable estates. Their value to the charity sector is still important, but did fall £1.3bn over the same period, from £17.8bn to £16.5bn.
More than a third of charitable wills contained just one named charity, while around a fifth named two good causes.
Video witnessing and online promotion of legacy giving could help improve the figures.
The signs of improvement are already there. Remember a Charity says that since mid-March traffic to its online making a will advice has doubled.
Many charities are already successfully promoting legacy giving via their websites and social media.
Often charities are able to cover the legal costs of making a will to those indicating they wish to leave a gift for them. Eligibility is often linked to a personal connection to the good cause, such as a medical issue.
Among those to promote their will support online is the Stroke Association, which offers a free will scheme to those over 60 and stroke survivors of any age.
Cancer Research UK has focused social media campaigning on legacy giving and what it means for the charity, through its “why not pledge to leave a gift in your will” campaign.
Online guidance for charities around wills includes Remember a Charity advice on helping charities select will-writing partners to make it easier to leave a gift.
Meanwhile, the NCVO has produced guidance for charities on how to ask for legacies from the public. This includes understanding the psychology of legacy giving and addressing tough to talk about issues around death.
While video witnessing is temporary, the indications are that legacy giving’s digitisation will continue in the coming years.
This could even extend into electronic signatures. Currently the government has decided not to allow electronic signatures “due to risks of undue influence or fraud against the person making the will”.
But it adds that the Law Commission is undertaking a reform project, “which will include consideration of the possibility of allowing electronic wills in the future”.