*** DEBUG END ***

Reap what you sow

26 October 2012

Talking about legacies and will-making is difficult, but a proactive approach in some dioceses is bearing fruit, says Steve Tomkins


"AND if he have not before disposed of his goods," the Book of Common Prayer instructs those visiting the sick, "let him then be admonished to make his Will, and to declare his debts, what he oweth, and what is owing unto him; for the better discharging of his conscience, and the quietness of his Executors. But men should often be put in remembrance to take order for the settling of their temporal estates, whilst they are in health."

In recent years, churches have been doing more than ever to remind churchgoers that a legacy can provide considerable help to causes that are important to them. But a survey last year by the market research company ICM Direct, suggests that 61 per cent of adults in the UK have not even made a will.

A survey of churchgoers in 2009, by the charity consortium Christian Legacy, found that a quarter of the wills of the respondents were out of date, and that 19 per cent of them had never thought of legacy giving. On the other hand, Christian Legacy say that Christians are more than 50 per cent more likely than non-Christians to make a charitable bequest.

Every year, about 5000 people leave gifts in their wills to Church of England parishes, the Stewardship Team of the Archbishop's Council says, amounting to a total of £50 million. Large bequests can now have greater impact: last year's budget reduced the inheritance tax for those who give at least ten per cent of their estate to charity, where the estate is more than £325,000, from 40 per cent to 36 per cent.

Parishes across the Church of England can point to the lasting difference made by bequests. Last Christmas, a gift in the will of a parishioner allowed the PCC of St John the Baptist's, Hatherleigh, in Devon, to start renovating community buildings belonging to the church four years earlier than expected. One legacy to Halifax Min-ster has provided for £22,000-worth of repairs to the organ.

St Matthew's, Northampton, and St Paul's, Tongham, in Surrey, have both appointed children's workers on the strength of bequests. In 2010, a legacy provided the starting funds for the installation of a kitchen and lavatory at the base of the bell tower of St Mary's, Happisburgh, in Norfolk. The refurbishment of Christ Church, Ward End, Birmingham, is the result of a series of legacies.

As the value of this form of giving has become more apparent, dioceses have been seeking to ensure that parishes and parishioners are more aware of the opportunities. In Manchester, the Diocesan Stewardship Officer, James Emmerson, gives regular presentations on legacy giving to the area deans, so that they can pass on information and resources to churches. He maintains a website, prints a monthly magazine, and sends out a biannual newsletter that covers stewardship in general, allowing him to keep will-making on the parish agenda.

Mr Emmerson encourages PCCs to make a simple policy on legacies and donations, and to publicise it. The policy should remind churchgoers that legacies are welcome, and point out the need to avoid restrictions on how the money should be used. "People will often make a will, and then live for another ten or 15 years afterwards, or more," he says. "If they've left the money for a specific purpose - say, the church roof - it may no longer be needed. So the policy should encourage unrestric-ted gifts, but make clear that consultation will take place, to [identify] the kinds of projects that the person would like their money to be spent on."

Talking about legacy giving is a sensitive issue, he admits. "You don't want to be going on about it all the time, but you can't ignore it."

Other dioceses offer other resources. The Llandaff diocesan website provides short articles on legacy giving that can be put into parish magazines. Others, such as the Ely diocese website, offer detailed guidelines on creating a legacy policy.

A regional legacy officer for Christian Aid, Alison Knight, has worked over the past 18 months with the dioceses of Oxford, Bath & Wells, Exeter, and Truro, leading legacy workshops for church officers.

This co-operation began when it became apparent that many Christians who make charitable bequests give both to Christian Aid and to their church, so there was no competition between them. Many more Christians, however, have not thought to give to charity in their will at all; so both the NGO and the dioceses hope to benefit from greater awareness of the possibilities of legacies. Christian Legacy's survey found that those who leave charitable legacies tend to give to three or four organisations.

"Lay people involved in running churches tend to be volunteers, and part of the community. As a result, few parishes were promoting legacy giving, because people were reluctant to raise the issue with those they knew well," Mrs Knight says.

Christian Aid had long promoted legacy giving through its advertising and fund-raising channels. In Christian Legacy's survey, although only 18 per cent of churchgoers had heard about legacy giving from their church, 85 per cent had heard about it from charities.

Mrs Knight's workshops have brought some of the benefits of this publicity experience to churches, under the title "What if . . . it was easier to talk about legacies?" She discusses ways in which to bring up the subject sensitively and appropriately, and the possibility of using prayers, notices, and sermons to convey the legacy message.

Further resources for churches are provided by Christian Legacy, including a magazine for retired people, Promise, and a Tomorrow's Harvest pack for parishes that contains handouts, posters, a sermon, a parish-magazine article, and ideas for small group discussions.

The Archbishop's Council also has a website, www.churchlegacy.org.uk, where leaflets can be ordered or downloaded, explaining the advant-ages of giving a legacy and offering advice on making a will. It also has other material, that advises PCCs about legacy policy, and how to deal with the issue appropriately in church.

All these initiatives are recent; so, as any change in the will-making habits of churchgoers will take a long time to show fruit, it is too early to talk about results. Mrs Knight believes there is a long way to go in making Christians aware of the potential of legacy giving.

In Peterborough, the Stewardship and Funding Officer, Paul Adams, says that churches in the diocese receive 100 legacies a year. "The majority are for church fabric, but I'm keen to see more go towards the missional work of the church and making disciples," he says.

He feels that the willingness of Christians to support a church in their wills is a resource whose potential remains untapped. He suggests that the best way for PCCs to communicate with churchgoers on the subject is little and often - a "drip-feed" of information, so that they are kept aware of the need and opportunity without feeling pressured.

There is also agreement by legacy officers about the need to make a proper will, with professional advice, to insure that all instructions are legally valid, and that all the legator's intentions are met.

During November, many solicitors take part in Will Aid, when they draw up a will for a client without a charge, but suggest a £90 donation to charity. Information, including a list of participating solicitors, is available from Will Aid.



THESE are some of the things to attend to after someone has died:
• Notify the GP.
• Register the death at the register office.
• Inform any offices that pay benefits or tax credits.
• Locate the will, checking whether the solicitor has a copy. Contact the executor, or, if you are the executor, apply for probate through a solicitor. If there is no will, apply to the probate registry for letters of administration.
• Make funeral arrangements, remembering any instructions in the will.
• Return passport and/or driving licence.

Notify any of the following that apply (some will not apply, if the account was not in the name of the deceased person):
• employer
• school or college
• accountant
• tax office
• National Insurance office, if self-employed
• local authority council tax department
• insurance companies
• pension provider
• banks
• mortgage provider or landlord
• providers of credit cards, loans, hire purchase, or anything rented
• utility companies
• TV, phone, and internet providers
• the Bereavement Register and/or the Deceased Preference Service, to stop unwanted mail
• home help


THINGS to sort out and get in order before someone dies include the following:

Will: Make sure that the will is up to date with the person's present intentions, and that you know where a copy is kept.

Documents: Ensure that you know where all the paperwork is kept, such as:
• birth certificate
• bank and credit-card statements
• share certificates
• insurance policies, including life insurance
• property deeds
• tax and National Insurance records
• pension statements
• state benefit documents
• utility bills, and any other unpaid bills
• mortgage or rent statements
• records of loans and hire-purchase agreements
• business papers

Funeral: Find out what the person wants included in his or her funeral, such as particular hymns and songs, the involvement of specific people, and the question of burial or cremation.

Living will: If appropriate, ascertain whether there are medical treatments that the person does not wish to have, and whether he or she wishes treatment to be continued in the case of brain death. 

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)