Probate professionals have their say on charity estate administration

May 31, 2024

Probate professionals dealing with multiple charity beneficiaries say there are major benefits to having a lead charity – providing they all agree on a joint course of action.

The comments were one of the top takeaways from a joint survey organised by the ILM together with Today’s Wills & Probate.


Probate professionals who regularly deal with charities in the administration of estates were asked a series of questions (see separate panel) to find out their views on the process, what works and what they would like to see done differently.

More than half of respondents said their view of the processes employed by charities is either very or somewhat positive.

They like the fact that ‘legacies officers are very approachable’, said they ‘tend to understand the administration process better than lay beneficiaries’, and are ‘professional and knowledgeable’.

Countering that, just over a quarter said their experience was somewhat or very negative, with comments including ‘some legacy managers … can be rather bullish and aggressive’, ‘they quibble about fees, often rude and demanding’ and are ‘constantly seeking updates’. The remainder of respondents took a neutral view.

ILM CEO Matthew Lagden, said: “We want to say a big thank you to both TW&P and all those probate professionals who took the time to complete the survey, providing insight and constructive comments into their dealings with charity legacy officers.

“We were greatly reassured by the largely positive feedback, but we recognise there is always more that can be done to further improve our relationship with the sector. This gives us a very strong platform from which to continue to build and invest in our member training, with a particular emphasis on good communications and respect for all parties.”

Lead charities

Asked if having a lead charity makes their job easier when multiple charities are named in a will, the vast majority of respondents were overwhelmingly in favour. A number however, said that even with the protocol in place, they were still chased by individual charities and, in some cases, if a lead charity struggles to gain a consensus of opinion, it can cost additional time and effort.

Matthew continued: “The fact that so many probate professionals are in favour of having a lead charity is extremely gratifying and it is therefore even more important that our members recognise the need to work together in harmony.

“A lead charity is exactly that and other charities must respect that it is acting on behalf of the group. If decisions need to be made on issues such as interim payments or property sales, then a majority view must prevail.

“The ILM’s strength is in its members’ ability to work together and harness their joint expertise, if individual charities break that element of trust, then it is to the detriment of all of us.”

Improvements

Respondents were asked what works well, what processes could be done better, and to name the one thing that would help improve the relationship/opinion of them.

Answers ranged from better communication (email was preferred), introducing standard service level agreements and having agreed named contact points; together with having agreed timelines, a better attitude, charities being quicker to respond, more consideration and respect for those carrying out the administration process; and greater appreciation of the fact that the administration of an estate takes time and money.

A number of respondents said charities were aggressive in the way they chased for results, while others said they enjoyed working with charities and their communication was clear and concise.

Conclusion

James Stebbings, ILM chair, says he believes one quote in particular sums up the story:

‘I understand that it is a difficult job for charities and a fine line to tread and, in my experience, they do a pretty good job. It doesn’t stop my heart sinking a little when I see that there is a charitable beneficiary in a will though.’

“ILM members do a great job, often in very difficult circumstances and, at the end of the day, their priority (quite rightly) is to ensure monies left to their charity as a legacy are received in a timely and professional manner,” said James.

“To achieve that goal, we must all show empathy and understanding along the way. I think what these results have shown is that there is more work to do in how we deal with probate professionals, executors and others involved in the process. “We will learn from these comments, we will embrace them through our training programmes, and we will strive to create greater understanding for the greater benefit of everyone involved in the charity legacy journey. We owe it to each and every one of us – and to our charity donors – to do the very best we can and we will exploit the undoubted strength of the ILM to get us there.”

A sample of respondent comments:

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