Research sheds new light on the role of solicitors in facilitating legacy giving

18 October 2016

40% increase in legacy giving among people writing their first Will, when legal professionals normalise gifts in Wills 

New research launched by Remember A Charity today at the Law Society of England and Wales provides valuable insights into the way solicitors can best raise the option of legacy giving with clients.

Carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team and the University of Bristol, the two-year study is the first of its kind to explore the most appropriate and effective ways for solicitors to make their clients aware of the option of donating through their Will in a face-to-face setting. The Legacy Giving and Behavioural Insights Report was based on trials involving eight firms of solicitors and over 2,600 client interactions across the United Kingdom.

Language plays a major role

The study found that people’s likelihood of including a charity in their Will is affected by the language legal professionals use, concluding that how solicitors raise the charitable option can play a major role in legacy giving. The gap between the public’s intention to give through their Will and the likelihood of them doing so can be reduced through the Will-writing process.

Michael Sanders, Chief Scientist and Head of Research, Evaluation and Social Action at the Behavioural Insights Team, said: “We already know that mentioning legacy giving as part of the Will-writing process can have a significant impact on giving levels, but 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.

“Crucially, we also found that solicitors and customers are both comfortable with the concept of giving to charities being presented as part of the Will-writing process.”

Social norming

Normalising charitable legacies by communicating that this is something that others do, was the approach most likely to encourage clients to leave a gift to charity in their Will.  However, the impact of social norm messaging varied according to clients’ circumstances.

Social norming was most effective for clients that were writing a Will for the first time, with a 40% uplift in the number of first-time testators choosing to include a charity compared to a control group. But this approach may be counter-effective for those who are not writing their first Will, discouraging them from doing so.

Addressing legacy gifts as an opportunity to support charities that participants’ families care about or have benefited from, increased the likelihood of participants without children donating and may increase the likelihood of people with children donating.

Emotional framing

Within this study, posthumous benefit framing – where solicitors focused on the good work that charities could do with the money after the person has gone – was not found to be as effective as other wording. This approach may reduce the likelihood of giving when compared to emotional framing or social norm messaging within the Will-writing setting.

The study showed that both solicitors and clients are comfortable with references to charities or legacy giving during. Over two thirds (69%) of people responding to an online survey conducted as part of this study said that they would be happy to have a solicitor mention charitable giving during the Will-writing process and almost half (46%) said that solicitors have ‘a duty’ to make clients aware of the option of legacy giving.

Best possible support

“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,” said Law Society president Robert Bourns.

“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.”

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, added: “While there has been a steady increase in the number of people choosing to include a charity in their Will in recent years, we are far from a place where legacy giving is the norm and solicitors have a key role to play in making their clients aware of all the options when writing a Will.

“With this report, we hope to help solicitors introduce the issue of charitable gifts in a way that is relevant, comfortable and a positive part of the Will-writing experience for them and their clients.”

The number of solicitors referencing charities during the Will-writing process is on the rise. Remember A Charity’s annual benchmarking survey, conducted by nfpSynergy in November 2015, indicates that two-thirds of solicitors and Will-writers said they reminded clients about legacy giving, up from 53% in 2011.

Read the Executive Summary. If you would like to request a full copy of the report please email the team

Read The Law Society’s media statement on the launch of the Behavioural Insights report.