Practice guidance will strengthen the crucial relationship between solicitors and legacy professionals.

On 24 February the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) launched its Good Practice Guidance. The guidance is the culmination of almost a year of consultation with both ILM’s members and other professionals working in the sector.

According to Legacy Foresight, UK charities benefited from an incredible £2.54bn in legacy gifts in 2016. The ILM is the membership organisation for legacy professionals and consists of over 300 charity and not-for-profit organisations, ranging from members of small local charities to large multinational institutions.    

Legacies are vital to supporting charities’ work and it is essential that benefactors should be confident that their gift will reach the charities intended. The interaction between those working in the charity legacy sector and the legal profession is a critical one for ensuring that benefactors’ philanthropic wishes are implemented efficiently and correctly.  

The impetus for the consultation on the guidance came from a number of angles, including the opportunity to proactively respond to the changing context in which charities operate, not least increasing oversight of how legacies are given and used; the chance for ILM members to pool their knowledge and resources; the chance to champion the high standards in which ILM’s members already take pride; and the potential to allow those outside the charity sector to understand the role that these professionals play.

The guidance, which will be available online, has an introduction to set context, the five principles and eight guidance notes. These documents set out a structured framework for the key ethical principles that should be employed by those in charities dealing with legacies. At the outset the guidance makes clear: ‘It’s our duty as legacy professionals to fulfil final wishes in a timely manner, and to optimise the positive impact these gifts have for charities and their beneficiaries.’

The five key principles that form the foundation of the guidance are:

1. Sensitivity – treating everyone involved in legacies with respect, tact and dignity.

2. Transparency – openness about the legacy journey work we do, taking every step to ensure all parties clearly understand the process and progress of individual legacies.

3. Integrity – acting according to the highest standards throughout a legacy process.

4. Collaboration – working together to engage everyone involved in a legacy, using their skills and knowledge to handle the legacy appropriately.

5. Informed – dedicated to continuous professional development to ensure our expertise serves our donors and organisations.

These principles should be applied at each stage of the process of dealing with legacy gifts left in wills, from notifying charities about gifts through to their actual use for the charity’s beneficiaries. While these principles are not enforced through legislation or regulation, the intention is that they will be recognised as important ways to reassure benefactors that their gifts will be dealt with and used as they wish, and will thereby be broadly adopted.  

The guidance and guidance notes are intended to be edited and refined over time. I know that ILM welcomes feedback.

During the consultation process, the steering group not only considered the position in England and Wales but also consulted solicitors and members in Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure that the guidance would be equally helpful there. Charity members and wider sector professionals were all closely involved with the whole process of creating the guidance, as well as there being consultation with the full ILM membership twice.

I have no doubt that the guidance will help both solicitors and charity legacy professionals on a day-to-day basis and will assist charity trustees with the important task of showing that they are properly fulfilling their fiduciary duties.  

The guidance should be a valuable tool for the sector and the legal profession. Together with the joint ILM/Law Society publication Charities as Beneficiaries, both charities and the legal profession can look forward to continuing to work together.

Stephen Richards is a partner at Withers LLP