50 Key Messages – Charitable Bequests


Charitable Bequests

Giving Australia revealed that less than half of adult Australians have made a Will and of this, 7.4% have included a gift to a charity in their Will.

Respondents who gave or volunteered were more likely to have made a Will, and also more likely to have left a charitable bequest. Women were more likely to have a made a Will as were those older Australians, however there was no relationship between gender or age on the likelihood of including a charitable bequest.

While income was not strongly related to having made a Will and not related to the likelihood of including a bequest, 89.3% of philanthropists in the philanthropy and philanthropists survey indicated they have a Will, and 35.7% reporting including a charitable bequest in their Will.

Researchers in western nations have consistently found the standard pattern in estate distribution is for the first partner of a couple to leave their personal estate to their spouse; and for the surviving spouse to subsequently leave the estate to the children, in full and in equal share (Menchik and David 1983; Finch and Mason 2000; O’Dwyer 2001).

Focus group and interview participants described the strongest influence over the decision to leave a charitable bequest to be the perceived capacity to leave a bequest, although this amount is entirely subjective and there is no objective measure of ‘how much is enough’.

There were three primary reasons consistently highlighted as to why people do not leave a gift in their Will. Firstly, participants identified a desire to avoid family disputes or changes to their wishes by family. They believed a challenge could potentially be reduced by ensuring that their intentions as the Will-maker and Will provisions and instructions are shared in advance and made extremely clear. Secondly, cultural sensitivities associated with death or dying continue to be a challenge to discussing including a gift in a Will. Finally, there was a preference for lifetime giving as many donors found it important to

I think I get more benefit from donating each year to charities than from the bequest because I won’t be there to see what they do with the bequest money.

– Focus group, Bequestors, VIC

Where next on charitable bequests?

Given the importance of perceived capacity to leave a bequest, professional advisers view their role as important in influencing the perceptions of those who can give, but may not yet realise their capacity. Participants believed that encouraging influencers such as professional advisers to ask about giving, and building timely prompts into existing Will-making processes would make an impact as would making use of available data to determine who might be a potential bequestor, and approaching potential donors and family members with appropriate sensitivity. The primary role of government in bequest giving was viewed as:

  • encouraging Will-making
  • raising public awareness of the potential for charitable bequests, and
  • protecting people against the risks of financial abuse, bullying and breaches of privacy from overzealous organisations.

To read the full reports and factsheets, go to https://www.communitybusinesspartnership.gov.au/about/research-projects/giving-australia-2016/

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