Legacy giving is a rewarding and challenging field to work in
Originally published: February 2018
MissionBox writer Kellie Smith speaks to Liz Parry, legacy manager at the National Osteoporosis Society — a charity which helps people affected by the bone condition osteoporosis — about the highlights and challenges of working in legacy giving, and why her heart is firmly in the charity sector.
What made you decide to work in charity legacy giving? And what route did you take to get there?
I started my career 20 years ago working at a firm of solicitors where I learned about wills and probate, as well as conveyancing. I was working in Cambridgeshire in 1998 when a legacy officer position became available at the RNIB in Peterborough. I decided to apply as there was no scope for progression where I was. I’ve since learned that the charity sector is a lovely environment to work in and there’s more room to develop and learn new skills.
While working at RNIB, I undertook legal training and qualified as a Legal Executive which gave me a firm grounding in probate law. I also took my Certificate in Charity Legal Administration, an examination offered by the Institute of Legacy Management, and have since gone on to complete my STEP Certificate in Trusts and Estates.
I progressed from legacy officer to legacy administration manager at RNIB, a role which allowed me to use not only my legal skills, but also my conveyancing experience and knowledge of the housing market (a long time ago I worked at an estate agents and auctioneers).
After 16 years at RNIB (and having married and moved to Somerset during this time) I saw the legacy manager role advertised at the National Osteoporosis Society near Bath and decided to apply. It’s a really exciting job and a great charity to work for; I’ve been here for 2.5 years. I am responsible for ensuring the National Osteoporosis Society receives, maximizes and protects over 40 percent of its total voluntary income through legacies, which equates to around £2 million.
The legal route isn’t the only pathway to legacy giving. Some people come from a fundraising and marketing background. At the National Osteoporosis Society we have another staff member who promotes legacy giving to supporters alongside other ways of supporting the charity; our two roles work closely together.
What does your role as legacy manager involve?
One of my main tasks is checking the estate accounts (statements of income and expenditure showing what has been left to the charity) to ensure that charitable exemption has been claimed and that Inheritance Tax has been apportioned correctly. Sometimes both lay executors (family members or friends) and professional executors get the calculations wrong. When spotted this can increase both the charitable and non-exempt share of estates (shares that are not exempt from tax) quite considerably.
As part of the process of checking the accounts, I also keep a close eye out for any unusual or suspicious entries in a will or estate accounts.
What do you like about your role?
I enjoy talking to families and friends of those who have left gifts in wills to the National Osteoporosis Society. It is so rewarding to hear what inspires someone to leave a legacy to the charity and how the organization’s work has helped someone towards the end of their life. It blows me away that people leave such generous sums to charities in general.
In your 18 years in the charity sector, are there any moments that stand out for you?
As well as the standard tasks, I’ve had some more unusual moments. A few years ago, I dug up a rhubarb patch to try and locate a missing £4,000 that had been left to a charity — which a neighbor had advised was buried there. I also retrieved a frozen dead budgie called Snowie from a freezer to ensure he was buried with his owner (who kindly left her whole estate to charity). No two days are the same; there’s lots of variety.
What are some of the challenges of working in legacy giving?
Forecasting legacy income accurately is quite challenging. You can predict your income going forward based on actual legacy notifications (charities receive notifications when individuals leave gifts in their wills) and historical trends, but then big anomalies can happen.
For example, a personal representative (a person appointed by a court to administer the estate of another person) might experience delays in the sale of a property, a claim may be made on an estate, there may be difficulties tracing beneficiaries or there might be problems when trying to gain tax clearance; a delay of just a few months can have a substantial effect on the activities you are planning.
There are also external factors to consider, which can throw your forecasting out. Legacy Foresight has highlighted in its latest Legacy Bulletin that this year’s flagging house prices and jittery stock markets appear to have affected average residual values (what is left in an estate after payment of debts, funeral expenses, executor fees, taxes, legal and other expenses).
The British economy is also expected to slow further over the next two to three years while the details of Brexit are agreed, which is likely to affect residual values further. However, climbing death rates (a 3.2 percent rise in the last 12 months) continue to increase the number of legacy notifications charities are receiving. These additional bequests will help to sustain overall legacy income.
What makes a successful legacy manager?
You need a variety of skills. A legacy manager has to wear several hats, including being a lawyer, administrator, counselor, fundraiser, estate agent, auctioneer, property developer, negotiator, arbitrator, forecaster and stockbroker to name but a few.
It’s also important to be prompt, polite and knowledgeable when dealing with solicitors and executors of wills; and to be on hand to assist them with their questions to help make their job easier. You need to remember they have a job to do and quite often you need to step back, be patient and let them get on with it. Also, for family members this is a particularly difficult time so you need to be sensitive.
Where do you see your career taking you?
I will be staying in legacy giving in the charity sector way into the future as it’s a very rewarding, interesting and varied area to work in. The job is amazing and I feel very lucky to be part of a tight-knit community of other legacy managers, officers and charity legal professionals across the sector.
Everyone is so helpful: if I have a problem or a question, I can fire off a quick email and I’ll get an answer. The amount of knowledge, expertise and willingness to share is incredible. When you meet up with everyone at conferences it’s like a big family who are always there to support, teach and share their experience with you.