Working to protect what's most precious to you

Charity Will Month (or, a bit of a rant)

Just now, legal firms across the country are taking bookings for Free Wills with appointments available during the month of March. It sounds like a great idea: a limited number of appointments available to anyone aged over 55 years, with no obligation but the suggestion that those taking up the offer leave a donation to charity in the process. Sounds great. Nothing to rant about there.

Except that a number of things about the campaign bother me immensely.

To start with, the lawyers are not working out of the goodness of their heart. The charities involved in the scheme pay the lawyers a fee for every Will they write. I'm not going to start quoting figures but the price the charity pays is pretty much what the individual client would pay if they just went along to see the lawyer themselves. The experience I have of talking to people who have taken up the Free Will offer is that they were not aware that the charity had effectively paid the bill on their behalf.

There's also the fact that basic Wills are not the right thing for many, many people, but this is all the scheme will pay for. So, if you discover later that your estate would benefit from trust planning and so rewrite the Will at your own cost then unless you make sure to leave a charity legacy as you did in the Free Will scheme, the charity has paid out but had no return.

Common practice for law firms is that they will seek to write themselves into a Will as executors wherever possible. If you do this then you have no way of knowing what the charges to your estate will be. Your family potentially ends up dealing with a law firm with whom they could rack up significant costs simply because the nice lawyer who wrote the Will for free (!?) in the first place retired and sold their business to a large and unfriendly law firm interested in profits above all else.

My gentle suggestion is this: if you want to give money to charity do it now, or pay a lawyer to write your Will and leave a legacy in the same way but without incurring an upfront cost to the charity itself.

We do lots of pro bono work at Deighton Bowie. If a charity or individual is in need of assistance and genuinely doesn't have the means to pay then we will help wherever we can. We offer staged payments to all of our clients who need it to make sure that cashflow isn't the reason why a person doesn't have a Will.

We are also very happy to have a chat if you want further advice. Please feel free to get in touch and one of our friendly folk will be glad to help