Legacy Fundraising
Standard Content

Introduction to legacy fundraising

Leaving a gift to a charity in a Will is likely to be the largest donation an individual ever gives to charity. Fundraising for legacy gifts is often built on establishing a long-term relationship between the potential legator (the person who leaves a gift in their Will) and the charity or charities that they choose to donate to.

It can also be a challenging area of work – legacy fundraising will by its very nature lead to some sensitive topics and conversations with an individual and potentially his/her family or next of kin. It’s also a complex area because of the regulatory and legal considerations of leaving Wills and the administration of estates. This means charities and fundraisers have to take care to ensure they are acting appropriately. 

It’s important for legacy fundraising to:

When charities, or others acting on their behalf, undertake legacy fundraising they must comply with the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Remember A Charity podcast

If you want to dive deeper into the subject, tune in to Remember A Charity's regular podcasts on the different aspects of legacy fundraising.

Marketing and communication

Mass communication

Charities and other fundraising organisations use a wide range of one-to-many media routes to market legacies to current and potential legators. These include radio, press, direct mail, inserts, TV, online and email.

When charities, or others acting on their behalf, undertake legacy fundraising, charities should:

Communicating with groups

Group activity will normally consist of an invitation to an event, dinner, reception, or tour, for example. Whether the event is solely about legacies or organised jointly with other fundraising teams, it is important for charities to be transparent about the reason for the invitation to an event, being explicit that legacies will be discussed if the issue is going to be raised. Consideration should be given to the appropriate level of financial investment in the event, including from the perspective of the audience. It is advisable for event organisers to avoid being exploitative in their ‘use’ of beneficiaries or supporters as case studies or testimonials, and to respect their dignity and privacy.

One-to-one fundraising

Many organisations offer the opportunity for potential legators to speak to a representative of the charity on a one-to-one basis, often at a meeting in the supporter’s home. The representative of the charity might include a staff member, trustee, volunteer or a third party agency fundraising on behalf of the charity. In this section ‘fundraiser’ refers to any such charity representative.

Before beginning any face-to-face legacy fundraising activity, it is advisable for a charity to approve an agreed set of written procedures, clearly establishing a policy on proper practice for this activity. It is good practice for this set of procedures to be communicated to all fundraisers engaged in face-to-face legacy fundraising activities, and for fundraisers to abide by its requirements. Face-to-face meetings in a potential legator’s home to discuss legacies should only occur if that person has first had the opportunity to decline the meeting. It is advisable for meetings to always be held by prior appointment and be confirmed in writing.

It is important that in all face-to-face fundraising, fundraisers:

Use of case studies

Case studies of previous legators and current pledgers are an important part of supporter communications with potential legators. It is good practice for case studies to be accurate and not fictitious, and at all times the charity should respect the subject of the case study and his/her situation. It is advisable for the charity to ensure that either the individual, or in the case of the deceased, his/her family or personal representatives, approve copy and use of images. Where the real names or other elements of case studies are changed or are a composite of several case studies, this ought to be made clear and be explained within the case study. 

Ethical issues

Close relationships can develop between a fundraiser and a potential legator. This can sometimes favour the fundraiser rather than the charity, and a legacy may be left to the individual in their personal capacity, rather than to the charity.

It is important charities are aware of these potential dangers and have in place policies and procedures to deal with such instances.

If a legacy is offered in a personal capacity, fundraisers must explain that, should the legator wish to give a legacy to him/her personally, then the fundraiser is obliged to disclose the gift to his/her line manager at the charity. Fundraisers shouldn’t take advantage of their employment by the charity to solicit a personal legacy. If a charity considers that a fundraiser has abused his/her position and has solicited a personal legacy, the charity should have disciplinary procedures in place for dealing with such situations.

If volunteers and/or staff are to be asked for legacies, it should be made clear that they are under no obligation to leave a legacy.

Sometimes a potential legator might decide to benefit a charity in preference to his or her own family.

If a potential legator asks the charity to explain to disinherited family members why they are being disinheritedthe charity ought to decline or otherwise only explain why the charity needs the legacy.

The charity should also ask the supporter to put in writing to the charity his/her reasons for benefiting the charity instead of his/her family. It is good practice for the charity to retain the letter on file and to recommend to the potential legator that he/she keep a copy of the letter with his/her original Will.

Paying for Wills

Charities and their agents may choose to use a range of incentives to promote legacy giving. It is important that charities ensure incentives and recognition devices offered to potential legators are of appropriate value, which will usually be of minimal cost.

In relation to free and discounted Will schemes as well as requests to pay for Wills, charities should follow the Charity Commission guidelines as set out in the Charity Commission guidance ‘Paying for Wills with Charity Funds’. It is essential that fundraisers do not make it a condition that the charity is included in the Will. Fundraisers must not exert undue influence on potential legators. Fundraisers who fail to follow these guidelines run the serious risk that the Will may be contested and such actions may jeopardise all of the organisation’s legacies.

Conditional gifts

Sometimes potential legators want to give a legacy to a charity subject to a requirement that the legacy is used for a specific purpose. That the legacy is used for that specific purpose may be a condition of the gift and, if so, the charity must comply with it. Alternatively, the purpose may be expressed as a non-binding wish, with which the charity can choose whether or not to comply. In relation to such legacies, it is advisable for charities to:


Gifts to charities following the death of supporters may be received at a time when family members and friends are grieving and those dealing with the gift, often the next of kin or a close friend, may feel particularly sensitive to how it is handled by the charity. In addition to feelings of grief, family and friends may be under some strain in managing the deceased’s estate or experience feelings of obligation to the deceased. 

Charity staff administering in memory donations or legacies act as ambassadors for their charities.

It is good practice for staff dealing with in memory gifts to ensure that donors are thanked appropriately and that any recognition is suitable. Charity staff should communicate with family and friends of the deceased, including lay executors, with professionalism, courtesy and sensitivity. It is advisable for communication with professional executors or other professionals to be courteous and professional at all times. Where names are mentioned or case studies sought and subsequently used, permission ought to be obtained from the next of kin where possible.

Charity staff should at all times be mindful of the need to balance the opportunity to promote on-going support with the sensitivities associated with bereavement. Charity staff administering legacies have a particular responsibility to balance legal duties and the optimisation of benefit to charity, with the maintenance of their charity’s reputation and future income stream - whether dealing with professional or ‘lay’ executors. It is important that legacy administration procedures take account of the sensitivity of their situation.

Legal information

It is important that charities ensure fundraisers do not provide legal advice. Legacy fundraising materials ought to make clear, where relevant, that the contents are not intended to constitute legal advice by the charity, and that potential legators are strongly advised to seek independent professional advice from their own professional advisor.

A charity may suggest potential lawyers or professional Will-writers (see ‘Definitions’ below), but it is good practice to offer a choice of at least two without making a recommendation. Alternatively, if the potential legator does not have a lawyer or professional Will-writer, the legator could be referred to the relevant law society or the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. It is advisable for charities to avoid drafting or being directly involved in the drafting of Wills in favour of the charity. A fundraiser must not exert undue influence on a potential legator.

Witnesses to a Will under which a charity benefits ought to be independent of the charity. In particular, a representative of the charity should not be a witness. A representative of the charity acting as a witness may lead to the Will being contested.

To act as executor, if asked to do so by a potential legator, the charity and its officers must have the power to do so (which usually means that the charity must have trust corporation status or be able to appoint an individual as executor on its behalf). It is also advisable for the charity to consider, for it or its officers, whether it is appropriate to take on the role of executor, which may depend on the size of the legacy, and whether taking on the role is to be made a condition of receipt of the legacy.

In England and Wales, whenever legacy marketing activity involves direct contact between the public and a third party agency, the charity must comply with the Charities Act 1992 provisions (as amended) on declarations by professional fundraisers. Similar regulations apply in Scotland under the Charities and Benevolent Fundraising (Scotland) Regulations 2009 (further information is available from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator).


Types of legacies

Bequest or legacy

A gift in a Will to a person or organisation. There are different types of bequests.

Residuary legacy

A gift of the residue (or a share of the residue) of the estate. Residue is whatever is left after all debts, funeral expenses, certain other costs and tax and any other legacies have been deducted.

Pecuniary legacy

A gift of a fixed sum of money. The value of a pecuniary gift will decrease over time, as the cost of living increase.

Specific legacy

A gift of a particular named item – for example, a piece of jewellery, furniture, a painting, buildings, land, house contents, chattels, shares, etc.

Contingent legacy

A gift that is dependent upon the occurrence of an event which may or may not happen. For example, a gift to a charity which applies only if other beneficiaries named in a Will die before the individual dies.

Life interest / reversionary bequest

A right to enjoy property, or the proceeds of investment of property, until death or in the case of some reversionary interests, some other event. The beneficiary of a life interest is known as the ‘life tenant’. The interest will cease on death of the life tenant.

Gift in remainder / remainder, interest in

An interest/gift in property that comes into effect after a prior interest in the property has ended e.g. in a property subject to a life interest. A beneficiary of a gift/interest in remainder is known as a ‘remainderman’.



A document which amends (e.g. alters or adds to) a Will. It must be drawn up and executed in the same way as a Will in order to be valid.


The persons appointed by an individual in his/her Will who are responsible for administering the deceased person’s estate. Personal representatives include executors.

Legally qualified

Someone who holds a qualification recognised by the Law Society of England and Wales, the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, the Bar Council of England and Wales or Northern Ireland, the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland or the Institute of Legal Executives.


The beneficiary of a legacy.


Someone who has died leaving a legacy to a charity. A 'potential legator' is someone who may include a gift to charity in his or her Will.

Professional Will-writer

For the purposes of this guidance, a professional Will-writer is an individual that meets the following standards:


Someone who has made a Will. 


Either a Will or a codicil. In order to be valid, a will/codicil must be drawn up and executed in accordance with certain formalities. Both can include a legacy to charity.



A promise or statement that an individual intends to include a legacy in their Will or has already done so. It is not a binding contract.


The term 'pledger' is used to denote someone who has informed the charity that they have included, or plan to include, a legacy to that charity in their Will.

Members Only Content