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9 September 2019 | Comment | Article by Matthew Evans

Legacy giving myths: Leaving a gift to charity is not tax efficient

This blog post was updated on 5 September 2022 as part of our ‘Remember a Charity Week 2022’ campaign.

There are two points that you need to be aware of when considering making a gift to charity in your will.

The first of them is straightforward: all gifts you make to a registered charity are free of inheritance tax.

If you were to leave the entirety of your estate to charity, you will pay no inheritance tax on your estate whatsoever. If you were to leave a just £100 to a charity, then whilst there may be tax on other parts of your estate, the £100 would be tax free.

The second point is a little more complicated.

If you leave more than 10% of your estate to charity, then the rate of tax on the rest of your estate falls to 36%, from the usual 40%. This can potentially lead to a situation where leaving more money to charity results in more money going to your family.

To explore this second point, we have set out an example.

Three sisters, Marcia, Jan and Cindy all pass away leaving an estate of £2 million. Each of them is a widow with their own nil-rate band and residential nil-rate band, and the same available for transfer from their late spouses, making a total of £1,000,000 in inheritance tax allowances. Each of them is considering leaving money to charities that support causes that mean something to them. They all have children who would receive the balance of their estate.

Marcia Jan Cindy
Estate gifted to charity Marcia decides to leave nothing to charity. Jan leaves £90,000 to charity. Cindy leaves .£100,000 to charity. (£10,000 more than Jan did)
Estate £2,000,000 £2,000,000 £2,000,000
Less: Nil-rate bands £1,000,000 £1,000,000 £1,000,000
Subtotal £1,000,000 £1,000,000 £1,000,000
Less: Gift to charity £0 £90,000 £100,000
Taxable £1,000,000 £90,000 £100,000
Tax at 40%: £400,000 40%: £364,000 36%: £324,000
Estate received by children Marcia’s children receive: £1,600,000 Jan’s children receive: £1,546,000 Cindy’s children receive: £1,576,000


On Marcia’s death, her children receive the most of the three, but her estate suffers the most tax. Cindy’s charitable legacy exceeded the threshold at which the tax rate falls to 36%. So not only, has her charity received more than Jan’s, but also her children received more than Jan’s.

The above figures provide a basic overview but the way in which the 10% minimum is calculated is slightly more complicated. The calculation is based on something known as the ‘baseline amount’, which in simple terms is the estate in someone’s sole name (not including jointly held assets or assets held in trust) less debts, funeral costs and inheritance tax allowances.

If you are thinking of benefitting a charity and you want to ensure that this is done in the most tax efficient way possible, your solicitor will be able to write a will which ensures the baseline amount is applied correctly.

Get in touch with our Wills team to discuss leaving a legacy gift.

Remember a charity week

Remember A Charity Week is an opportunity to take a moment and consider leaving a gift in your Will to charity, after taking care of family and loved ones. Hugh James is proud to support the week. As part of that we are publishing a series of blogs about charitable legacy giving. Follow @HughJamesLegal on Twitter to keep up to date with all our posts.

This year’s ‘Remember A Charity’ campaign includes a series of ‘How to’ videos hosted by former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis, who answers common questions about leaving a gift in your Will. The campaign also features a new advert that’s inspired by an iconic 70s science show.

Author bio

Matthew Evans


Matthew is a partner and heads up the firm’s private wealth offering. He is responsible for the development, implementation and long-term strategy of the team.

Matthew has a UK-wide reputation in the field of contentious probate, recognised by his clients and peers in the leading legal directories.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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