Where you bank, where you spend your money, how you invest and even the legacies you leave on your death all have ethical consequences.
My summer holiday read this year, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Scottish journalist Kirsty Wark, was set in a pretty seaside village on the island of Arran. It’s a moving story in which the lives of two women who have never met, one in her 30s (Martha) and one in her 90s (Elizabeth) are intertwined due to the life changing gift Elizabeth leaves in her will. Through that legacy, Elizabeth, along with her hopes and dreams, continues to live on.
The book is fiction but its premise – that we can make decisions in our lifetime which shape the future and positively impact the lives of others – is very real.
But, for those decisions to be acted out, we need to set them out clearly in a will and not leave it to fate or to the good intentions of the family and friends we leave behind. Indeed, there is a chapter in the book set in the office of Elizabeth Pringle’s solicitor as he discusses the wishes set out clearly in her will.
As legacy coordinator for Christian Aid Scotland, the word ‘legacy’ is something I think about almost daily. I reflect on the long-term legacy of Christian Aid’s work in some of the world’s poorest communities. I think of the individual legacies left by our supporters, whose generous wishes to leave a gift towards our work are revealed to me, usually in a letter from their solicitor and a copy of their will following their death.
And, not least, I think about the wonderful opportunity we all have to leave a lasting legacy. What a wonderful gift is at our disposal – if only we took the steps required to make it happen.
Statistics tell us that around 75 per cent of people actively support a charity or several charities in their lifetime but only seven per cent remember to leave a charitable gift in their will.
What is even more surprising is that half the adult population in Scotland currently doesn’t have a will. But to leave a legacy you need more than good intentions – you need this legal document in place.
This November, Will Aid – the UK’s longest-running charitable will-writing scheme – offers an opportunity to get your paperwork in order. Will Aid is a special partnership between the legal profession and nine of the UK’s best-loved charities. Every November, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic will. Instead, they invite clients to make a voluntary donation to Will Aid. They suggest £100 for a single basic will and £180 for a pair of basic ‘mirror’ wills. Every year Will Aid raises in the region of one million pounds.
McClure Solicitors, a law firm with a strong social conscience, has been drawing up wills for Will Aid for many years. Adrian Howlett, estate planning consultant at the firm, says that the process of writing a will allows people to reflect on what they have and how they would like it to be distributed to family and charitable causes after their death.
But, he is concerned that many of us do not write a will. He said: ‘I cannot stress enough that the only way to ensure your wishes are followed is to have a will and not leave things to chance. Writing a will saves your family the headache of you dying intestate, which takes time and energy to sort out during an already difficult time.’
Previously in this column, I shared the story of Beryl Ellis-Hadwin, a midwife who took the decision to leave her entire estate to Christian Aid. The care which Beryl received after an eye operation in the UK made her want to reach out to those who don’t have access to expert medical staff.
Four years after her death, her passion for healthcare lives on in Sierra Leone where Christian Aid works to improve maternal health care facilities. I’m not sure whether Beryl used Will Aid to make her will, but I do know she had a will and that she wanted to make a difference which will last for generations.
To find out if your local solicitor is taking part in Will Aid 2019, visit willaid.org.uk To read more about the transformational impact of gifts in wills go to christianaid.org.uk/gifts-in-wills On 30 October, McClure Solicitors will host a Q&A about writing a will at Christian Aid’s Edinburgh office. If you would like to come along please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0141 2416139.
Jo Dallas, legacy coordinator, Christian Aid Scotland.