The life of a legacy officer

June 27, 2019

ILM speaks to Nick Duncan, Legacy Officer at St Nicholas Hospice Care, to find out much more about his role and how he ended up working in legacies …

My name is Nick Duncan, I’m 62 years of age, I’m the Legacy Officer at St Nicholas Hospice Care in Bury St Edmunds with responsibility for legacy administration, legacy marketing and in memory fundraising. I also sit on the Committee of Legacy & In Memory (East) (which is known as “LIME”), an organisation which aims to provide training and networking opportunities, and to promote best practice, to legacy and in memory professionals across the East of England.

I first came into contact with St Nicholas Hospice Care (“St Nic’s”) when I lost a former partner here in August 2012. At the time I’d owned a retail business for ten years having previously spent 25 years as a private client tax manager with a major international accounting firm. I was so impressed with the Hospice that I vowed to join the organisation so I spent the ensuing year negotiating the sale of my business. Initially engaged at St Nic’s as a Fundraising and Lottery administrator, it wasn’t long before my background in capital taxes planning came to the fore. With no Legacy Officer having been in place for some years, I was asked to care-take some legacy files.

A new career

My intervention in my first two files having yielded £12,000 from correcting an erroneous Inheritance Tax calculation, and £39,000 from what had been a misinterpretation of a Will by lay executors, in March 2015 I found myself newly appointed to the role of Legacy Officer and, at the age of 58, embarking on a new career. During 2018 I took the three ILM CiCLA exams and passed in October with Distinction. Not only that but it appears that I managed to attain the highest overall CiCLA mark in the UK last year at 92.5%, which has earned me (at the age of 61!) the accolade of ILM’s Student of the Year 2019 and a rather splendid trophy which I was surprised and delighted to have been presented with at the ILM Conference in London on 10th May. I was also among the nominees for the Legacy Professional of the Year award – illustrious company indeed! What I hope this demonstrates is that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks and that (without sounding too pompous, I hope) there is absolutely no reason to stop absorbing, adapting, aiming and attaining, whatever our stage in life!

I don’t believe anyone could have explained to me beforehand how much I was likely to enjoy legacy life, nor how well it would play to my strengths. My largely autonomous role in a small charity requires a degree of numeracy; an eye for detail; an understanding of probate, property and tax law; a flair for creative writing and design; a good deal of empathy and sensitivity; and a measure of authority and gravitas which, thank goodness, can be one of the benefits of ageing! Do I wish I had discovered the life of a legacy professional at an earlier stage? I don’t believe it’s healthy to reflect with regret on having done or not done something on whatever path life determines for one, so I’m just happy to be here now and, providing I’m able to retain the necessary interest and the energy levels, I can’t see myself wanting to give this up much before the age of 70.

Reaping the rewards

For me, the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of the role derive from its legacy admin content. A number of our legacy files have produced some interesting challenges: in the past year alone I have found myself successfully negotiating a property sale on behalf of six beneficiaries when the relationship between the purchaser and the executors had broken down; representing the interests of three national charities in a conflict of interest between executors and assisting in negotiations between the parties and their lawyers to achieve a satisfactory outcome for the estate; identifying a Re: Benham clause in a Will which hadn’t been noticed by solicitors; identifying errors in a double-discount IHT calculation from the private client tax practice of a major accounting firm; challenging a legal practice over its failure to follow the rules in ss117-122 on a sale of “charity land” following appropriation; persuading executors and their advisers of their proper obligations in a case of corrupt title – to mention but a few! I have to say that in challenging other professionals I would not have felt as well-versed or as confident in my knowledge without having undertaken the CiCLA course, which has proven invaluable: indeed, I would encourage any legacy professional – whether or not they hold a prior legal qualification – to join ILM and study for CiCLA.

Spreading the word

I believe we’re a body of professional and committed fundraisers with a high level of technical and inter-personal skills and a unique opportunity to educate both those coming into the profession, whether by choice or by default, and those in other charity sector roles who haven’t yet grasped how essential legacy giving is to the charity sector and how cost-effective it is as a fundraising opportunity. We must make every endeavour to spread the word on legacies, to recruit talented people into the profession, to educate them and to inform the public at large about the good that charities achieve with legacy receipts. Anyone with an interest in the law and how it works; in making a difference to their charity’s income levels; in enjoying a working life which will provide variety, challenge and interest on a daily basis; and in forging close working relationships with legal professionals and families alike should very strongly consider a career as a legacy professional – and regard it as the important and worthwhile stand-alone career which it is and not merely as a stepping-stone to other charity roles to be ticked off a list on the way up!

By Sonya Dallat


Post in the forum (members only)
Mention on Twitter