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Highest number of charities named in wills in a decade


10,670 unique charitable organisations were named in wills in 2021, the highest number on record, according to Smee & Ford’s annual Legacy Trends Report.

Between 9,500-10,000 charities are usually mentioned in wills each year. Last year, around 2,000 were also mentioned for the first time since Smee & Ford started collecting this data a decade ago. Out of these new organisations, 21% were religious, 15% culture and heritage organisations and 13% community projects.

More bequests made but value falls slightly

According to Smee & Ford’s data, charitable estates also grew – by 10.7%, with 37,242 identified in 2021. This is the highest number recorded by Smee & Ford in the last five years. With an average of three bequests per will, the increase equates to over 10,000 additional charitable bequests.

However, while more bequests were made, the value fell slightly. Smee & Ford found that although there were more people in the highest band (over £2m) in 2021 compared to 2020, their values were less than those in the same band in 2020. 2020 saw 812 estates worth over £2m with an average value of £5.9m, whereas in 2021 there were 934 estates with an average of £5.1m.

Legacy income falls 7%

Total legacy income also fell, from £3.4bn to £3.2bn – a 7% decrease from the previous year. Smee & Ford attributes this to changes made to the Probate service, which caused a backlog in processing, combined with the impact of the pandemic.

Speaking at the Legacy Strategy Summit this week, Mark Pincher, Head of Data at Smee & Ford commented:

“In the first half of 2022 we have seen a similar number of charitable estates to 2021.  Although overall estate values are higher than last year, the value of bequests are slightly down due to fewer high value estates identified so far.


“The overall picture for 2022 so far is a positive one, and if things follow the same trajectory, we could see estate values reaching £19bn by the end of 2022 indicating another strong year for legacy income.”

More stats

Reported legacy income has dropped to £2.7bn with Smee & Ford estimating total legacy income at more than £3.2bn37.4% of charitable wills contained just one named charity and 21.7% contained 2 charities. The highest number of charities named in one will in 2021 was 61Nationally around 14% of probated estates with wills are charitable, with 1 in 5 wills being charitable in many areas of the south-east & south-west compared to 1 in 8 to 10 in many areas of the north-west and Wales.
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