What is a bequest and how do I leave one in my will?

Published: 14/7/2022

When writing your will or planning your estate you can choose to leave a bequest to family or charity - perhaps even both.

We are all influenced in some way by the actions of generations before us and whether it is knowledge, skill, passion or donation you choose to pass on, don't underestimate the impact  it can have on the next generation and to the lives of those in need.

Regardless how big or small your bequeath is, paying it forward has a powerful and positive impact that hopefully sees a "...world in which charity will have become unnecessary" - Chinua Achebe.

What is a bequest?

A bequest is a gift that is included as part of a will or trust. It can be a gift to a person or a gift to a charity and any amount can be given. A bequest can be as simple as giving your grandchild $1,000 or more complex with specific conditions outlined on how the gift can be used.

Who can I leave a bequest to?

You can leave a bequest to a person, charity or organisation - or to multiple people, charities or organisations. When making your decision it is important to consider what legacy you want to leave behind. To safeguard your loved ones, it's also important to discuss the causes that are close to your heart so they can support you and understand fully why leaving a bequest to said charity is so important.

Why bequests are so important to charities

For charities to support their mission and activities which help improve the lives of people in their community, they are heavily dependent on the generosity of supporters. Put simply, without the kindness of others they simply would not be available - and who wants to live in a world like that? So, whatever amount you are able to bequeath, your contribution is invaluable.

Types of bequests

Residuary bequest - a non fixed amount of money or portion that is adjusted accordingly to the value of your estate. For example, this could be a remainder of your estate after gifts and debts have been fulfilled.

Pecuniary bequest - a specific gift or set amount of money gifted rather than other assets.

Specific bequest - when a specific item is gifted such as artwork, jewellery, real estate or shares - anything that holds sentimental value really.

Contingent bequest - a gift that takes effect if certain conditions are met. For example, if a beneficiary of the bequest predeceases you, you can advise your next choice.

Whole or part of your estate - when you give your entire estate or any part of your estate to a single beneficiary.

Related: Why you should write your Will today

How do you leave a bequest in your Will?

Now that you have a better understanding of how bequests work and what your options are, where do you start?

First and foremost, you need a will. If you haven't got one, you need to write one and it is good practice to work with a professional to ensure your will is legally sound and so your bequest is carried out the way you intended. This could be a solicitor, public trustee or through a reputable online platform that enables you to write a legally-valid will online.

Things to consider

Besides talking with a legal professional, you should also share your final wishes to those closest to you to avoid any confusion after you pass away. If you choose to include a bequest to charity it is beneficial to also let them know. Most charities have a Bequest Officer or Legacy Manager that can help you through the process.

Charities you could leave a bequest to

  • Oxfam
  • Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF)
  • Save the Children
  • The Smith Family
  • WIRES Wildlife Rescue
  • PCYC
  • Salvation Army
  • Australian Red Cross
  • Cancer Council
  • World Vision
  • Beyond Blue
  • Vision Australia
  • Caritas Australia
  • Animal Welfare League Australia
  • Australian Aid
  • Unicef
  • Humpty Dumpty Foundation
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Doctors without Borders
  • The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
  • The Fred Hollows Foundation

Local options you could leave a bequest to

  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Homeless shelters
  • Animal shelters/rescue
  • Wildlife preservation
  • National Trust

"At the end of the day, it's not about what you have or even what you've accomplished. It's about what you've done with those accomplishments. It's about who you've lifted up, who you've made better. It's about what you've given back" - Denzel Washington

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