Charities' use of will alerts under scrutiny

15 January 2016

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CHARITIES, including the Children’s Society and the RSPCA, have defended their practice of pursuing bequests and legacies.

The Times had reported that many charities were using the agency Smee & Ford’s legacy-notification service to alert them to any mention of their charity in a deceased person’s will, allowing them to trace relatives and ensure that the bequest was paid. The Times reported that one grieving daughter had been asked by the RSPCA whether her father was dead yet.

The charities have been accused of insensitivity. The chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavements, Mark Pawsey, said: "It does seem to be showing a lack of sensitivity to people who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Grief lasts longer for some than for others. You couldn’t say there was a safe period after which they would be able to make an approach."

The legacy-notification service offered by Smee & Ford checks 5000 wills a week, and helps charities to claim an estimated £2 billion a year. It states that it provides "timely information on specific legacies left to [charities], or notification of money left in wills or trusts for unspecified charitable purposes".

The RSPCA receives about 3000 notifications annually. A spokesman said: "Once probate is granted, a will becomes a public document," and then charities could be informed of such gifts.

The Children’s Society said that it approached an executor once it had received notification of a bequest, to express gratitude and explain what needed to be done next. After that, it maintained contact "periodically" to ensure that the bequest was transferred.

Its chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: "The service provided by Smee & Ford lets us know who has decided to leave gifts towards our work helping some of the UK’s most vulnerable young people. . . We comply fully with all guidelines [of] the Institute of Fundraising and the Institute of Legacy Management."

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