When family & friends deal with their loved one’s estate

An image of a man's hands typing at a laptop

Milena Furini is a Legacy Management Officer in the Friends & Family Team at Cancer Research UK. She shares some reflections on her work supporting lay executors over the past year. 

A while ago I was involved in a workshop on personal growth. The aim of the workshop was understanding if we’re happy with our jobs and, if not, what’s the reason why. We explored what we really like doing; what are the things that we would do even for free. What I discovered about myself is that what really motivates me is “interacting with other people, listening to them and helping them get where they want to be if they’re not there yet”. I must say this is indeed part, if not the crux of my role as a Legacy Management Officer in the Friends & Family Team. 

The team was set up in 2018 to focus on supporting lay executors (mainly family members and friends) in their duty to distribute gifts from loved ones’ estates to Cancer Research UK.  Although most probate/confirmation work is handled by solicitors across the UK, the charity has seen increasing numbers of lay executors contacting us. I thought I’d share some learnings and some heart-warming experiences from this past challenging year.  

We’re a team of 5 case handlers, managing a revolving caseload of about 200 cases each. We started by asking lay executors what sort of help they would like and what support they would expect to receive from us. We’ve kept our supporter-led approach since and as the team has evolved over time we’ve been able to expand the type of assistance we offer.  

One of the many advantages of having a team dedicated to the lay audience is our ability to explain in simple language the hurdles that lay executors will face and to offer support at a time when many are still grieving. We can offer guidance about specific processes connected with estate administration and the charity’s requirements, as well as signposting them to further sources of legal and emotional support.  

Lay executors transfer significant sums of money to the charity for minimal personal recompense. We want them to know how much we appreciate their time and effort in this role and how grateful we are to their loved ones, our legators, for securing the future of our research. To achieve this, we’re constantly working on improving our thanking and recognition process, as well as making sure that lay executors’ questions are addressed promptly; probably the biggest challenge we faced during the pandemic.  

Whenever possible we offer to act as lead charity when multiple charities are named as beneficiaries, providing executors with a single point of contact and making their lives easier. Feedback from them overwhelmingly shows that they appreciate the extra help and are grateful for our understanding of the delays they face; again, this has been a particular feature of the lockdown periods we experienced.  

We often work with lay executors who need extra support in dealing with a family member’s estate. Facing bereavement and having to deal with estate administration at the same time often proves difficult and the delays of the past year have added stress to the process for some. Together with our co-beneficiaries, we are at pains to let lay executors know that we understand perfectly well the difficulties they face and that we’re more than happy to offer all the support we can based on our legal knowledge and experience. In this past year, with the challenges we’ve all had to face, the best feedback I’ve received from one of my lay executors has been that they have truly appreciated our “help and understanding”.   

When we’re lucky enough to be opened a window on the wonderful life stories of some of those who have left us gifts in their Wills, we seek permission to share these heart-warming and inspirational stories internally with our colleagues working across the charity and with our professional executors also.  

The team who work with legal professionals across the UK are also keen to hear more about the lives of our legators so please contact legacyoperations@cancer.org.uk if you are dealing with a gift to Cancer Research UK from an estate  where family and friends are happy to provide some background to the life and motivations of the legator.  

Before the pandemic legacies accounted for approximately 33% of Cancer Research UK income. Due to the loss of income from sources such as mass participation events and our shops across the UK, legacies now account for around 45% of our funding. Never has income from gifts in Wills been so important to the charity as it is now and so is the support we can offer to our executors. 

Together we will beat cancer.

Milena Furini 

Any questions?

Talk to your Legacy Partnership Manager if you have any questions about this blog post. 

Each year we process over 6,000 gifts in Wills, making us the leading experts in the sector. Our team of Legacy specialists can provide you with all the information and support you need to help create a future where everyone survives cancer.