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Another record-breaking year for legacy income, but forecast warns of short-term losses

Melanie May | 20 November 2023 | News

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Charity legacy income saw record annual growth of 6.5% in 2022/23, estimated to have reached £4 billion with bequest numbers at almost 140,000, according to Legacy Foresight’ latest Legacy Monitor.

Longer term, legacy income is predicted to reach over £6bn by 2050, but current economic conditions are likely to negatively impact growth in the coming months. 

UK legacy income: £billions

The record growth is estimated based on this year’s Legacy Monitor from Legacy Foresight. An annual benchmarking research programme, it gathers data from over 80 charities, accounting for almost 50% of the charity legacy market. 

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Commenting on the figures, Jon Franklin, Economist at Legacy Foresight, said:

“Recent growth in legacy incomes has been helped by a buoyant housing market that supports the value of legacy gifts. However, this is likely to be a short-lived boost, as the housing market has already started to fall, and we expect to see this negatively impact average legacy values over the next year.”

Falling house prices impact average gift values but can also affect the time taken between notification that a death has resulted in a charitable gift, and money being received by charities, Legacy Foresight says. This is due to people delaying house sales and holding out for prices to rise. While this doesn’t change income over the long run, it adds, it does create a short-term challenge for charities in terms of cash flow and budgeting. 

Continuing probate administration issues delay £900mn reaching charities 

While there was a higher number of deaths in the year to March 2023 (681,000 compared to 633,000 in 2021/22), Legacy Foresight notes that the expected increase in bequest numbers did not follow. This was largely due to the number of cases caught up in probate processing at His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMTCS). Legacy Foresight’s research indicates an estimated 70,000 cases, equating to £900mn in legacy income, are affected by the backlog and have not yet been passed through to charities.

With deaths predicted to reach 700,000 per year by 2030 and 800,000 by 2050 (due to the ageing baby boomer population), it also expects this to present a further challenge to the probate administration service. 

Housing market impacts medium term forecast

The projected fall in house prices means that the medium term forecast for legacy income is relatively subdued. Over the next four years, Legacy Foresight expects legacy income to drop slightly, to just under £3.8bn in 2025/26 — a fall of 5%.  

Kathryn Horsley, Director of Insight at Legacy Foresight, commented: 

“While a fall in legacy income isn’t good news, it’s worth noting that this reduction is fairly small and comes at a time when other forms of fundraised income are under even more pressure due to donors feeling the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis. Given this, legacy income will remain a resilient source of income during the challenging next few years.”

Long-term: accelerated growth forecasted

Beyond 2026 however, Legacy Foresight expects to see return to accelerated growth. In real terms, legacy income is predicted to reach over £6bn by 2050, due to an expected rise in deaths, along with a return to house price growth from 2025/26. 

Long-term predicted growth of UK legacy income: £billions

While growth in legacy income is positive news, Legacy Foresight also notes that the market is becoming more crowded.

CEO of Legacy Futures, Ashley Rowthorn, said:

“With the huge impact that external forces such as house prices and the probate backlog are having on the legacy market, it’s more important than ever and yet more challenging than ever, for charities to understand how they are faring compared to the market.

 

“Charities need to stay aware and informed as to what is happening to the external drivers, so they’re able to separate market trends from their own. This will enable a better understanding of their underlying performance and to set realistic budgets and strategies for the future.”

Institute of Legacy Management & Remember A Charity response

CEO of the Institute of Legacy Management, Matthew Lagden said:

“At a time when all charitable income streams are negatively affected by the wider economic circumstances, it is more important than ever that legacy professionals and charity leaders forecast how their own legacy income might perform over the next few years.

 

“We understand that the next few years will be challenging for everyone, but by collaborating as a sector, and armed with the vital information that Legacy Foresight provide, we are confident that legacy income will continue to play a vital role in funding services across the UK.”

Lucinda Frostick, Director, Remember A Charity, added:

“Particularly in such tough economic times, charitable legacies have never been more valued. Fundraisers, finance teams, CEOs and trustees at any charities with established legacy fundraising programmes will no doubt be thankful that their predecessors had the foresight to invest in legacies in years gone by, helping them weather the current storm.

 

“We can’t control the economic environment, but what we can influence is the propensity for giving and the way in which we inspire people to leave a gift in their will. Currently, we’re seeing appetite for legacy giving reach record levels. In challenging times, it’s all more important that we continue to collaborate within the sector and beyond, building on legacy growth to normalising charitable gifts in wills.”

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