A legacy is a gift in a will.  It may be a specific sum or item or a share of what is left of a donor's estate after all the other specific gifts have been made.  It may be contained in the will itself or in a codicil, which is a legally valid addition to a will.

  • For charities one of the main advantages of legacy income is that it is mostly unrestricted income
  • Gifts to charities are free of inheritance tax.  Inheritance tax is charged (at 40%) on the value of an estate over and above the inheritance tax threshold (nil-rate band) - currently £325,000 for individuals and £650,000 for married couples/civil partnerships
  • You can also cut the Inheritance Tax rate on the rest of your estate from 40% to 36%, if you leave at least 10% of your 'net estate' to a charity
  • Whilst 75% of the population give in their lifetime only 7% remember a charity in their will
  • Despite this, legacy income is worth over £1.95 billion annually

The different kinds of legacies

Pecuniary legacy

The most straightforward type of legacy where a specified amount is given e.g. £500 to Cancer Research Cymru.  The main drawback is that the value is eroded over time by inflation.

Residuary legacy

Where either all or a proportion of the residue of an estate are given after all specific bequests have been made. These legacies are on average considerably more valuable and keep up with inflation better as the main item of any worth is likely to be property.  With the decline in the birth rate, and the increase in life expectancy and property ownership there will be an increase in the number of people with significant assets who do not have family to bequeath their estate to - this is a real opportunity for charities.

Specific bequest

When a donor leaves a specific item which can be kept or sold by the beneficiary e.g art.

Long stop legacy

These state that if all other provisions of the legacy fail, for example if all the named residuary beneficiaries have died or there are conditions attached which cannot be met, then the estate reverts to a charity.  In these cases it is unlikely that the charity will receive anything but if it does it will be a substantial sum.

Reversionary or life interest

Where, for example, an elderly relative needs to be cared for, a life interest clause is often used such as 'My house is given to Valleys Kids with a life interest to my Uncle Charles'.  This is a useful way of carrying out responsibility to the supporter's family whilst ensuring a valuable legacy to charity.

There are two other terms linked to legacies that you should be aware of:


An addition to a will containing supplementary instructions drawn up and witnessed in the same way as a will.  It is a simple way in which people can add instructions to their will without having the whole thing redrafted e.g. they could draw up a codicil to add a £1,000 legacy to your charity.

Deed of variation

This is a way of changing a will after the person who made the will has died and can only be done if all the beneficiaries of a will agree e.g. if the deceased was a keen supporter of the environment the family could instruct the executors to make a £500 bequest to an environmental charity.  This has to be done through a legally drawn up deed of variation.  Any amount given in this way is exempt from inheritance tax.