Passing ourselves on

24 February 2016

Often we think of our Will as our last chance to leave a message about ourselves: who we are, who we care about and what’s important to us.

Historically, this was an important function of the Will; they were often written with a preamble which would say something about the writer, and, in early modern times, about their religious faith.

However, modern Wills are becoming increasingly straightforward documents with relatively little space to talk about what is important to the writer, or why they’ve made their decisions.

Those reading the Will may be left to infer key messages about who and what is important to the writer from the material gifts that they pass on – messages that can easily be misinterpreted.

So, now we’ve largely lost the preamble, how might we leave behind something more of ourselves than just our material goods?

Conversations

Talking with loved ones about a Will can be perhaps the simplest way to explain decisions and avoid future misunderstanding. However, for some people knowing how to start end-of-life conversations can be a challenge. Dying Matters has a range of resources to make starting conversations easier.

Letters

Solicitors sometimes advise people who want to explain their decisions to include letters that sit alongside their wills, rather than in the will itself. They can also be a useful place to pass on funeral wishes or to distribute particular items as they can easily be changed without having to use a solicitor or draw up a new Will.

Passing on memories

Writing a memory book or recording your reminiscences can be a particularly meaningful way to pass on messages to your loved ones. You can share your life-story, but also what’s important to you and what you’ve learned along the way.

Gifts that benefit both family and charity

Whilst many people like to leave a gift to charity in a Will, others would like to do so, but worry about family members missing out. However, gifts can be left in a way which benefits both parties, and also say something about what’s important to you.

Why not pass on your love of history by bequeathing a loved one a life membership to a favourite museum? Or leaving money for a grandchild to take up a volunteering trip overseas? Or perhaps even leaving some money to relatives to pass on to a charity that means a lot to them?

Messages with items

One of the reasons we treasure heirlooms is because of the people and stories they represent. However, we don’t always have the full story behind an item. Nowadays, people often choose to label important items with the names of who they’ve been left to.

Perhaps we could add a label that tells the item’s story and why it’s been given to that person. For example, ‘my father bought this for my mother in 1945, when he left the army. You always reminded me of her, which is why I want you to have it’.

Dr Claire Routley, consultant at Legacy Fundraising

Find out more about leaving a charitable legacy