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How to leave a gift to charity in your will

by Colette Sexton
23rd Nov 2018

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on the important steps to take if you are going to leave a gift to charity in your will. 

A few weeks ago, it emerged that Laois woman Elizabeth O’Kelly left €30 million to charity in her will. Elizabeth died aged 92 in 2016, and chose the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Society for Autism, the RNLI and the Irish Kidney Association as beneficiaries. This money will have a huge impact on the work of these organisations.

Last week, I wrote about the importance of making a will. If you have decided that you would like to leave some or all of your estate to charity, there are certain things to keep in mind.

It is a good idea to let your family know that you have decided to give to a charity, so that it doesn’t come as a massive surprise or shock, according to Bernadette Parte, principal at Parte & Associates Solicitors, and board member of My Legacy, a group of 60 Irish charities who work together to ask the public to consider leaving a tax-free legacy gift in their will to a charity they care about.

“People often wish to leave a legacy gift to a cause they care about or have supported in life. Very often, your family will know that you intend to do so and experience shows that generally, family members are very proud,” Bernadette said.

When writing your will, make sure that you properly identify the charity you wish to leave a gift or legacy to.

“A charity receiving a legacy in a will should be properly identified to avoid confusion as to which charity the testator wished to benefit. Rather than leaving a legacy “for cancer research”, the charity’s name, address and charity number should be included in the will,” she said.

If you are leaving a legacy for a specific purpose in a charity, ensure that the charity can fulfil that purpose. Otherwise, the legacy may fail and they will not receive the money, she said. Many charities prefer to be left legacies for the “general purposes” of the charity so it has a discretion on how best to use the money or the asset.

If your chosen charity changes its name, or its work becomes subsumed in another charity, in your will you can allow your executors to give the legacy to another charity that they believe meets the aims of the charity you wished to benefit.

If you are not sure what charity you would like to leave a legacy gift with, you can talk to several charities to better understand their work before you make a decision. Do your research. All charities are required to publish their accounts online now. Their annual report will give you a good idea of the work they do and how they spend their money. You might decide, like Elizabeth O’Kelly, to split part of your estate between several charities. Of course, not everyone has €30 million to divide up, but charities are grateful for all donations, big and small.

“To know that you will have an impact on someone’s life after you are gone is very powerful. We all have a charity or cause we support or feel strongly about and leaving a final gift for the future is such a kind and generous gesture that will be deeply appreciated,” Bernadette said.