Charitable Bequests and Wealth At Death


  • This research was supported by ESRC project grant ‘Giving to Development’ (RES-155-25-0061), which formed part of the Non-Governmental Public Action programme. The project was conducted in conjunction with Cathy Pharoah and Sylke Schnepf whom we thank for discussion and suggestions. We are most grateful to Waterlow Legal and Regulatory Ltd. for providing access to the Smee & Ford data that we use in the article and to Smee & Ford staff for answering our questions about them but neither company is responsible for the ways in which we have interpreted the data. Waterlow Legal and Regulatory Ltd retain the copyright in the data. We thank Richard Radcliffe for help when we were planning the research, Jon Aldous of HMRC for clarifying statistics on inheritance tax and the distribution of wealth, David Joulfaian for information on intestacy in the US, and seminar participants at Bristol, UCL Institute for Education, LSE, Melbourne, and Oxford, and the editor and referees.


Charitable bequests are a major source of income for charities but surprisingly little is known about them. We propose a multi-stage framework for analysing the bequest decision and examine the evidence for Britain provided by new data on estates. The novelty of the framework is that it distinguishes between five different steps that lead to a charitable bequest. Our new data for Britain have the advantages of covering the whole population of non-trivial estates, in contrast to much of the US literature based on the small fraction of the population covered by estate tax returns, and of containing fuller information on charitable intent. We use this unique data set to explore the relationship with wealth at death of testacy, of leaving a charitable bequest, and of the form of the bequests.