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Better collaboration between probate practitioners & charities needed says report

Better collaboration between probate practitioners & charities needed says report

Better collaboration is needed between those managing legacies within charities and their probate practitioner counterparts, according to a research report by law firm Penningtons Manches.

The Charity Legacy Report 2017 examines the opinions and perceptions of charity legacy officers and probate practitioners working in the specialist area of charitable legacies and reveals that legacy officers and probate practitioners expressed varying degrees of frustration and unhappiness with a number of aspects of their working relationship.

Authored by the Penningtons Manches charity sector team, the report is based on an independent survey carried out by Research Oxford and covers seven key topics:

  • competency and level of understanding of the law, tax and regulatory requirements frequency and tone of communication
  • the desire for greater collaboration between charities
  • challenges to the effective administration of charity legacies
  • understanding each other’s needs
  • the need for greater guidance and formal regulation
  • reputational issues for charities

It shows that while legacy officers and probate practitioners were predominantly satisfied with their own experience of dealing with charity legacies, they were less satisfied with some elements of the performance of others. 82% of legacy officers believe they provide a caring, compassionate and personalised approach to their work, while only 54% of probate practitioners agree with this assessment.

In addition, over a third (34%) of the legacy officers with the most experience questioned were concerned by probate practitioners’ lack of understanding of some tax exemptions and reliefs. Furthermore, only 38% of legacy officers were satisfied with the willingness of probate practitioners to accept assistance with charity law requirements. The same proportion were dissatisfied with the frequency of updates provided by probate practitioners (rising to 41% amongst those with over ten years’ experience).

In contrast, 46% of probate practitioners were unhappy with the frequency with which legacy officers check in with them and 47% were unhappy with the level of detail they request. According to Pennington Manches, this demonstrates a mismatch between the respective expectations about the process of administering charity legacies.

Tone of correspondence was another area highlighted by the results: 55% of probate practitioners agreed that the tone of correspondence from charities is appropriate while 29% actively disagreed. Over a third (36%) also believed that legacy officers do not personalise their approach to suit the circumstances of each individual legacy.

While the majority of legacy officers feel that they fully understand the relevant areas of law and most of them are very satisfied with the level of specialist training they have received, their confidence in their own charity’s senior managers and trustees’ awareness is much lower according to the report. 52% agreed that their charity’s senior managers had a good understanding of the relevant areas of law and 29% agreed their charity’s trustees grasped these issues.

Alison Talbot, head of charities at Penningtons Manches, said:

“The attitude of some probate practitioners is a real concern for charities. It might be that some of them feel defensive or simply do not understand the requirements of charities in relation to the collection of charity legacies. However, even if the charity sector finds the views of the probate practitioners frustrating, it has to take notice of the concerns as these individuals are often the gatekeepers to future charity legacies.”

“For the probate practitioners, there are some salutary messages about the perceived standards of service and competency. The report exposes shortcomings amongst some probate practitioners when dealing with technical issues that can arise in the administration of estates involving charities, and the regularity with which some mistakes are being made is a real worry. ”

Chris Millward, chief executive of the Institute of Legacy Management, said:

“We welcome this research and the insight it provides into the crucial relationship between charity legacy professionals and solicitors. The problems highlighted are sadly very familiar to the Institute of Legacy Management and our members. We thank Penningtons Manches for providing a renewed focus on these issues and hope this research will act as a springboard for better understanding, improved communication and increased collaboration between charity legacy professionals and solicitors.”

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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