Legal role in leaving a legacy

Valuable insight into how solicitors can assist their clients to support charities has been revealed in new research from The Law Society of England and Wales.

The findings, conducted by the Behavioural Insight Team alongside the University of Bristol and commissioned by Remember A Charity, analyse the ways in which solicitors bring up the issue of clients leaving charitable donations in their wills. It brings attention to the varying approaches used and the subsequent effect they have on individuals giving to charity.

The two-year study is the first of its kind, and aims to discover the most suitable techniques for solicitors to increase clients’ awareness in relation to legacy giving through their will, in a face-to-face setting.

Highlighting the importance of the research was Robert Bourns. The Law Society President commented on how the study’s findings would be of great benefit for solicitors in assisting their clients:

“Writing a will is an important step in ensuring that the people, and causes, we have cared about will be properly looked after when we pass away.

“Solicitors have a vital role to play in this process, using our legal knowledge and experience to give our clients the reassurance that their wishes will be properly carried out. This research makes an important contribution in helping solicitors think about how we give our clients the best possible support and service in the will-writing process.”

Within eight firms of solicitors around the UK, randomised control trials were held in order to gather the research. They assessed various methods of raising the topic of charitable giving as well as the different results that each produced.

The findings based on over 2,600 client and solicitor interactions indicated:

Language used is key

The way in which solicitors raise the subject of a charitable donation has an impact on whether one is made, with the initial intention of giving potentially being reduced during the will writing process itself.

According to Michael Sanders, Chief Scientist and Head of Research, Evaluation and Social Action at the Behavioural Insights Team, the exact wording used during an exchange can impact the amount given by a client:

“The evidence from these new trials indicates that specific language used in conversations can make a real difference to the way that people respond in a face to face setting.”

Normalising the process

Mentioning to a client that giving to charity in a will is commonly done, can greatly encourage clients to do so themselves. This did however vary depending upon the circumstances of the particular client. Social norming was found to be most effective for first-time will writers, with a 40% rise for those choosing to include a charity, in comparison to the control group.

For those who are not writing their first will however, the approach may be counter-effective and in turn dissuade them from donating.

Highlighting the benefits

Portraying charitable gifts as a means of opportunity to provide support for a relevant charity – one a client may have benefited from – increased the likelihood of donation. Focusing however, on the beneficial work that charities would be able to use the money for, post death, was found not to be as effective in comparison to other wording.

Director of Remember A Charity, Rob Cope commented on the growing significance that charitable donations included in wills have upon UK charities:

“Legacy giving has become increasingly important to UK charities in recent years, generating around £2.5 billion for good causes annually and its impact on charitable services is immense. But, despite being a highly philanthropic nation, a relatively small proportion of people leave a charitable bequest in their will.

“Many simply don’t realise that legacy giving is an option for them; that they can provide for family and friends and still have the opportunity of including a charity if they wish to do so. The role of legal professionals is crucial in making clients aware of all the opportunities they might want to consider when writing a will.”

According to the research, both clients as well as solicitors are generally comfortable with references to charitable or legacy giving during the will writing process. An online survey conducted as part of the study indicated that 69% of respondents would be happy with charitable giving being mentioned during their will being written and just under half (46%) felt that solicitors had “a duty” to make clients aware of the option to donate.

Cope concluded: “By improving our understanding of how to raise this important question, solicitors will be better equipped to assist our clients in drafting a will that properly reflects their wishes.”

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