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Higher 2016 death rates likely to increase legacy income this Spring

Higher 2016 death rates likely to increase legacy income this Spring

2016 might have been the year of a string of deaths of celebrities and well-known faces, but it was a year of unusually high numbers of deaths amongst the UK population in general. According to Legacy Foresight, analysts of the legacy and in-memory giving sectors, this is likely to be reflected in an increase in charitable bequests, given that some of those will have wanted charities to benefit in their Will.

In the UK in 2016 there more more than 595,000 deaths, around 30,000 more than projected (in 2015) by the Office of National Statistics. This was the second consecutive year in which around 600,000 people died.

Reasons for increase?

Legacy Foresight suggests that an early onset of winter, as measured by increased mortality, in 2016 contributed to this increase.

Usually there is an increase in deaths in December, which continues through to March. The ONS identifies these four months as the Excess Winter Deaths period. Indeed, the contrast between November and December is stark: deaths during November are usually not much higher than the April, at around 46,000.

However, in November 2016, over 6,000 more people died than expected, bringing the total to 52,600 deaths – 13% higher than the November average. (Monthly averages were calculated over the years 2006-2015).

Tim Yates, Analyst at Legacy Foresight, commented:

“As yet there are no clear explanations for November’s increase in deaths. Other recent death ‘spikes’ have been attributed to weather effects, ineffective flu vaccines or just natural month-to-month variation, and some combination of those factors is likely to have been the cause on this occasion. The picture is likely to become clearer over the coming months and we will continue to monitor the topic closely.”

Why Spring?

The increase in legacy gifts is expected this Spring because usually charities are notified of receiving a charitable bequest five to six months after the legator’s death. The high number of deaths in November is therefore likely to result in the number of charitable bequests in winter 2016/17 and spring 2017 being greater than normal.

Yates reported:

“We have already observed that many of our large legacy clients received more legacies than expected in 2016. This is likely to be partly due to the higher-than-expected number of deaths through much of the year; deaths recorded in June and especially, August – usually the month when the fewest people die – also numbered well above-average”.

Since 1994 Legacy Foresight has worked with over 100 British charities, appraising the state of the markets, and producing income forecasts and research into donor motivations.


Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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