Electronic wills need safeguards, warns Institute of Legacy Management

In its reply to a Law Commission consultation on modernising legacies, the ILM says tighter regulation and standardisation of online will-writing platforms is needed

Charities could miss out on legacies if electronic wills are introduced without the necessary safeguards and standards to ensure they can be enforced in law, the Institute of Legacy Management has warned.

The ILM’s statement comes in response to a Law Commission consultation that considers ways of modernising legacy law and making sure it is easier to implement people’s wishes as noted in their wills. The consultation closes today.

The Law Commission’s proposals include making provision for electronic wills, which are loosely defined as using digital technology during the process of creating or executing a will, and giving courts the power to recognise a will where formal rules have not been followed but the will-maker has made their intentions explicitly clear.

In its submission to the consultation, the ILM said the proposals failed to acknowledge that a growing trend for producing electronic wills was already having an effect.

The ILM said tighter regulation and standardisation of online will-writing platforms could help to ensure that new technology was introduced while retaining essential safeguards and standards.

It said the consultation allowed the Lord Chancellor to introduce electronic wills without specifying the timeline or level of public consultation required.

Chris Millward, chief executive of the ILM, said: “The consultation seems to defer all conversation on technology in the will process, suggesting it’s a future problem. But we know that people writing wills online is having an impact now and requires considerable consideration, fast.

“Our members are already seeing the consequences of wills made online and, as we become more reliant on technology, this is likely to increase. There is a risk of badly drawn-up wills resulting in donors’ final wishes being frustrated and failing, which means charities and their beneficiaries will miss out on vital support. The introduction of fully electronic wills would complicate the process further.”

The charity legacy consortium Remember A Charity also warned in its submission to the consultation that safeguards were required to make sure electronic and video wills were not easily challenged in court. But it welcomed the idea of bringing wills “out of the dark ages” through new technology.

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: “We need to be mindful that relaxing the laws around what makes a will legally valid could create uncertainty and increase the scope for legacy disputes. This means having more accessible, regulated will-writing opportunities, while ensuring appropriate checks are in place to test mental capacity and protect against undue influence.

“With the number of contested wills rising, charities are keen to avoid the emotional, financial and reputational costs associated with inheritance disputes, defending donors’ wishes and their own legal obligation for funds allocated to them.”

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Senior management teams and boards make slow progress on diversity, study finds

A survey by Third Sector of 50 leading fundraising charities finds slight improvements in diversity over the past three years

Major charities have made progress on ethnic and gender diversity at senior levels in recent years but have some way to go if the sector is to be truly representative, research by Third Sector shows.

A survey of 50 leading fundraising charities has found that senior management teams and trustee boards are slightly more ethnically diverse and have a marginally fairer gender split than when Third Sector conducted the same exercise three years ago.

But voluntary sector figures said that, despite the progress, significant work was still needed on both gender and ethnic diversity at top levels.

The research found that the proportion of female senior managers among the 50 charities had increased from 44 per cent in 2014 to 47 per cent this year, and the proportion of female trustees had increased from 36 per cent to 40 per cent over the same period.

The proportion of female chief executives increased from 30 to 32 per cent over the past three years, but this was only in effect one additional female chief executive since the previous survey was carried out.

The proportion of non-white senor managers increased from 6 per cent in 2014 to 10 per cent this year and the percentage of non-white trustees went from 8 to 10 per cent over the same period.

The figures on ethnic diversity compare poorly with the most recent UK census, which found that 14 per cent of UK residents were non-white, although that figure varied considerably from region to region.

In London, where most of the charities in Third Sector’s sample are based and which is the most ethnically diverse region in the UK, 40 per cent of people were found to be non-white.

For the full data and for comment and analysis, read the full article here.

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Culture change needed in volunteer management to attract more people, says NCVO manager

Kristen Stephenson, volunteer development manager at the umbrella body, says charities should allow volunteers greater flexibility in how and when they offer their time

A broad culture change in volunteer management is needed in order to attract more volunteers, Kristen Stephenson, a volunteer development manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said.

Speaking at a joint event held by the NCVO and the Office for National Statistics on trends in volunteering in central London today, Stephenson said charities needed to allow volunteers greater flexibility in how and when they volunteered in order to keep them engaged.

Many charities failed to take into account the fact that people’s engagement was an ongoing journey that depended on what else was happening in their lives, heard delegates at the event, which was held as part of National Volunteers’ Week. 

For example, they might volunteer as students, then less when they find full time work or have children, but then get re-engaged through children’s groups, she said.

“There’s a broader culture change that’s needed in terms of volunteer management, so that we create a culture of volunteering where people are able to volunteer in different stages of our lives and we can build in the flexibility and also the pathways to allow people to do that and support them on this journey,” said Stephenson.

She also said that organisations needed to embrace the fact that volunteers might have a more fluid relationship with them because people have become more focused on causes than organisations.

“It might mean we might need to change our mentality a bit from one that recruits volunteers to do a very specific role that we define, to one where we enable people to give their time and talent,” she said.

“So is might be that we are seen as volunteer enablers rather than volunteer managers in the future.”

She said charities should look to sharing volunteers and enabling them to move between organisations easily rather than thinking about protecting or keeping them loyal.

Matthew Hill, a senior researcher at the NCVO, agreed and said the sector needed to be careful about the way in which it viewed time as a barrier to volunteering.

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Many studies had shown that those who were busiest, for example, in full-time jobs and caring for children, tended to volunteer more, he said.

“We should be honest about what does it really tell us when people say they don’t have enough time to volunteer,” he said, pointing to data shared earlier in the session by Chris Payne, a  senior research officer at the Office for National Statistics, which showed that non-volunteers tended to consume more mass media.

“I think we all know mass media means boxsets, which we watch instead of volunteering,” Hill said,

“So I think we’ve got to be realistic that it’s not that people don’t have time to volunteer, it’s more the data shows that people are choosing to do other things with their time rather than volunteering.”

He said it often was not the overall amount of time that was needed to volunteer that presented a barrier by the idea of a regular, open-ended commitment that tended to deter people, so more flexible opportunities needed to be offered.

Stephenson said one solution was to design volunteering to fit around people’s lives – pointing to Projects such as Good Gym, where people go running but stop off to do activities for their communities along the way.

“In those roles the volunteering is almost secondary – it’s about how it fits into their lifestyle,” she said.

“If we want people to choose volunteering over watching a boxset we need to think about how we make it easier and how we really highlight what the other selling points are of that activity.”

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