Can I leave everything to charity in my will?

donating to charity - giving money - piggybank

Many people choose to leave money or other assets to charities when they die. Where a charity is particularly important to you, or where you feel your relatives are sufficiently well off, you may wish to leave most or all of your estate to charity.

In many countries, including Scotland, it’s not possible to do this, as set quotas must be reserved for certain relatives.

In England & Wales and Northern Ireland it is possible to leave your whole estate to a charity. However, you will need to make sure you provide for any close family and dependants that rely on you. If you don’t, and they bring a claim, a court can award them some of your estate if it decides it puts them in financial difficulty.

Make sure your family know your intentions in advance to avoid delays, legal costs or distress.

Avoiding disputes with your family

If there is any possibility that your will may be challenged, you should consult a professional advisor, who can ensure you have done everything possible to prevent this eventuality.

The following four steps are also all advisable:

  1. Tell your family why you are leaving everything to charity, and not to them.
  2. Write a letter to accompany your will explaining your reasons, and also why the charity is important to you.
  3. Get a doctor’s certificate confirming that you were of sound mind when you made the will. This way it can’t be challenged on grounds of mental incapacity.
  4. Make your intentions clear to your will advisor in writing.

Plan for the long term: choose your charity with care

Your chosen charity might have been wound up, or merged with another one, by the time you die. To play it safe, you could name a second and perhaps a third as a back up. Alternatively your will advisor could add a clause into your will to direct the legacy to a similar organisation.

If you are leaving a large amount of money to charity, think about setting up a charitable trust in your will. An advantage of this is that you can simply indicate how you wish the funds to be used (for example, ‘for medical research’), but leave it to the trustees to decide over time which projects should be funded.

Get advice

As mentioned above, if you decide to leave everything to charity you should speak to a qualified advisor, who will help ensure all relevant issues have been taken into consideration.


An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas, which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither STEP, the article author or their firm accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article. More