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Legacy income reached highest ever level last year, Smee & Ford figures show

Legacy income reached highest ever level last year, Smee & Ford figures show

Smee & Ford has released its Legacy Trends 2018 report, which shows legacy income to have reached its highest ever level last year, and is now estimated at between £2.8 and 2.9 billion.

Legacy income grew by £37.8 million over the previous year according to Legacy Trends 2018, with 36,445 charitable estates in 2017. This is consistent with the number recorded in 2016 with the general longer-term trend an increase in the number of charitable estates according to Smee & Ford’s report.

More key figures

  • Charitable estates were worth £17.9 billion in 2017, growing by over £1.8 billion over the year
  • 15.6% of the value of charitable estates (donor wealth) went to charities
  • 6.1% of the population leave a bequest in a Will
  • 122,144 bequests were contained in Wills in 2017
  • 34.7% of charitable Wills contain just one charitable bequest and the most popular cause for sole bequests is places of worship

Legacy income has grown significantly in recent years, rising from £1.8bn in 2011/12 to £2.6 billion in 2016/17 among those organisations that have their financial year ends between July 2016 and June 2017.  As more charities release their financial accounts, Smee & Ford expects this figure to rise further. Some of this rise however, is due to an increased number of charities reporting legacy income: 1,679 organisations in 2007/08 compared to 2,579 organisations in 2016/17. Just over one in five charities receive legacy income, where the total income exceeds £500,000.

Pecuniary bequests accounted for around 10% of total legacy income in 2017 and 90% came from residuals.

Top charities for legacy income

The five charities that receive the most legacy income are: Cancer Research UK, RNLI, RSPCA, Macmillan Cancer Support, and British Heart Foundation, although there is a big variation in the amount, ranging from £186.6m in 2016/17 for Cancer Research UK, to £73.3m for British Heart Foundation. Annual legacy income for the top 25 organisations exceeds £1 billion.

The top five for biggest yearly increases in legacy income were Macmillan (£12.9m more), RNLI (£12m), National Trust (£10.14m), Cancer Research UK (£8.8m), and The Woodland Trust (£7.74m).

Future potential

The report also looks at the potential value for legacy income in the future. It calculates that as charitable estates were worth £17.9 billion in 2017, and legacy income was worth £2.8 billion, 15.6% of the net worth went to charities. By applying this percentage to the total estate values for estates that do not contain a gift to charity, it estimates that could potentially be worth another £9.7 billion to the sector.

In addition, using the total number of probated estates in 2017, if 2,304 (one per cent) of those people included a gift to charity in their Will, Smee & Ford estimate that this would have raised an additional £97 million for charities.

The report also contains recommendations from Smee & Ford on how to optimise the impact of legacy marketing, and can be accessed via the Smee & Ford site.


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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