The initiative, Will Aid, will run during November. About 2,500 firms of solicitors are offering simple will-writing services free in exchange for a suggested donation of pounds 35 to the Will Aid charities. A telephone advice line, sponsored by the TSB, provides details of participating solicitors.
The charities themselves, which include ActionAid, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save the Children, hope that Will Aid will have the indirect effect of reminding their supporters of the possibility of leaving charitable bequests. Legacies are already of enormous importance to charities. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, about a third of the total voluntary income raised by Britain's top 400 charities each year arrives from this source.
However, this money (approaching pounds 500m last year) comes from relatively few people. 'Only 16 per cent of wills, about one in seven, contain charitable bequests,' said Bernard Sharpe of Smee and Ford, the specialist firm that monitors probate records for charities. As he pointed out, this leaves the vast majority of people who make wills potentially open to the idea of charitable bequests - to say nothing of the even larger group of people who have yet to make wills.
'There is so much scope for increasing legacy income. Only a 2 to 3 per cent increase in the number of charitable wills would be a crock of gold.'
There is, of course, a problem in achieving this. Legacies may be a painless way of giving to charity, as Mr Sharpe wrily observes, but none the less a certain delicacy is necessary from charities when reminding supporters of the transitory nature of life. 'You've got to make sure you treat the issue with sympathy and sensitivity,' said Colin Healy, of the Royal British Legion.
His own organisation last year launched a legacy campaign that it hopes within five years will bring in an extra pounds 8m a year to supplement the annual Poppy Appeal income, which recently has failed to keep pace with inflation. It has copied the route followed by other charities of producing a free booklet providing general information on will-making and inheritance issues. It also issues the now-standard 'pledge card', whereby supporters who include a bequest in their wills are asked to advise the charity. Mr Healy said that, during the campaign's first year, the Legion has received about 130 pledges.
Third World development charities in the past have received only a small part of their income from legacies.
Will Aid helpline can be contacted on 071 274 7000.
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