Charitable will donations are incredibly important. They raise over £2.2 billion every year – the equivalent of almost 25 Comic Relief appeals. And this is from just seven per cent of the population, which is a small minority considering that 74 per cent of people in Britain support charities during their lifetime. Nonetheless, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the impact of funds raised through legacies on individuals, communities, society and beyond is significant.

How legacy gifts make a difference

The latest figures for the UK put the number of charities that receive legacy donations at 2,257 – a 29 per cent increase over the past eight years. Among other things, gifts left in wills fund over a third of Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work. This helps pay for 4,000 researchers, doctors and nurses, and makes it possible for over 27,000 people to join clinical trials every year, according to the charity.  Six out of every ten lifeboat launches and two out of three guide dogs are also funded by charitable legacies.

“These and other services we take for granted in our society, such as hospices and centres for the homeless, elderly or disabled, simply wouldn’t exist without the generosity of the people who leave gifts in their wills,” explains Cope. “Many charities themselves have been set up by philanthropic, generous individuals, who wanted to leave something behind; it is vital to ensure that all this continues to live on, so that it’s there for our children and grandchildren to use in the future.”

Benefits of making a will

The problem is that about two-thirds of people in the UK don’t have a will, according to surveys. This despite the fact that, as Cope points out, “making a will is arguably one of the most important things one can ever do.”

The benefits are not limited to making sure that your possessions are passed on according to your instructions. Making a will is also, and importantly, the only way to ensure that all your wishes are upheld, and that your family, relatives and friends are taken care of. It allows to plan ahead, and can save your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions, and the distress that comes from it.

“Amazing gift”

In addition, a will is an opportunity for you to make a lasting difference for heritage and communities, through a cause you care about.

“It is an amazing gift to be able to say, ‘this is my legacy – this is what I want to leave to my community,”’ says Cope. “It is also a wonderful act of generosity and, for many people, a way to say thank you. For example, one of the charities I supported in my will did a great job in helping save my daughter’s life. Leaving a gift to them is my way to recognise the important part they played in my family’s life.”

More for us to do

Whilst many have already made headway in supporting charities through legacy giving, the vast majority of us don’t leave gifts to good causes in our will.

“There are many reasons for this,” says Cope. “Some people simply don’t think about it. Others don’t consider it relevant to them, or have misguided concerns about the will-making process, such as that it may be difficult to do or costly.” The result, however, is the same: many good causes are missing out on precious funds that could benefit current and future generations. So there is still work to do. And it’s worth the effort. According to a recent analysis by Smee & Ford, converting to charitable just five per cent of non-charitable wills would generate for charities an additional income of £350 million.

Cope concludes: “We need to get the conversation out there, and make people think about the fact that we can all remember a charity in our will and, in doing so, ensure that their work continue for generations to come.”