Smee & Ford have provided the service for a number of years, but as a private company, it offers its service for a fee. After considering the arrangement, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has found that its relationship with Smee & Ford and the fee that it levies "is not consistent with the department's legal duties".
The transition to HMCTS's own system will take place over a six month period and we understand that charities will be consulted on this. The Institute of Legacy Management, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations have been invited to join a working group about the new notification system, with the aim of ensuring that the system will be fit for service for some time to come.
Some commentators wonder what impact GDPR may have on the new system, with any new notification service having to carefully consider what information charities can have about living people, such as executors named in the will. This therefore raises a question over how useful a new system will be if the information regarding other people in the will is restricted, including fellow beneficiaries who legacy officers may wish to contact directly about an estate's administration. It is therefore important that charities have their say.
Smee & Ford estimate that 6.1% of the population leaves a bequest in their will, and the charity sector currently receives approximately £2.9bn in legacy income. The charity currently with the highest legacy income is Cancer Research receiving £177.8m in its last financial year, almost £60m higher than the RNLI which is in second place.
Legacy giving has increased considerably over the years, with initiatives such as 'Remember a Charity Week' bringing charity giving in wills to more peoples' attention. The Institute of Legacy Management has seen a considerable increase in its membership as a number of charities become aware of, not only the significant benefit that legacy income can provide their charities, but also of the legal requirements of legacy administration.
At the time of writing, HMCTS has not yet released details of how charities and advisors to the sector can contribute to the consultation. We will monitor this and will provide further updates as appropriate. We suggest that in the meantime charities consider their position and that as they occur to them, they note down ways they consider the current notification service could be improved.