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No Will - No Legacy

A good friend of mine is currently enduring the nightmare of sorting out the affairs of an aged relative who has died intestate. It is the last thing she needs and is very frustrating, as the relative in question had been told by all around her to make a will but never did. Now she has left a mess to be unravelled and the corresponding expense of paying a solicitor to sort it out. To cap it all, my friend has got all the responsibility of registering the death and arranging a funeral, while distant relatives who cared little for the aunt, and were essentially estranged from her, are now showing great interest in their former relative's affairs.

So what do such situations tell us? Obviously it reinforces the need to make a will, not least for the sake of those left behind and to protect the value of the estate from legal fees. Secondly, making a will can reduce a lot of stress in families by determining who gets what and avoiding arguments (my friend has had to keep a detailed account of her expenses, which will certainly be strutinised by the aunt's beneficiaries). Finally of course, without a will there will be no charitable legacy. The irony is that the aunt was estranged from her sister and had not seen those who will inherit her estate for many years. A legacy to charity would arguably have been a much better choice for her, a charity and my friend.

Legacy fundraising practice used to involve reminding people to make a will and warning them of the consequences of not doing so, with a legacy request bolted on. Things have moved on a lot in the last 20 years and we know that most targets of legacy messages already have a will, even if it may need updating. However, I wonder if we have thrown the baby out with the bath water? Could there still be a place for warning people of the nightmares they are creating for relatives by not making a will (and of course in the process remind them that they can also remember their favourite charities)?

We should obviously not overdo the doom and gloom - legacy fundraising needs to be a positive business after all - but I do wonder if the odd salutory reminder can still focus the minds of recalcitrant prospects who do no one any favour by omitting to make a will?

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