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How to leave a charitable gift in your Will

Leaving a gift or bequest in your Will helps support the causes you care about beyond your lifetime. Gifts or bequests can be a powerful way of extending the impact of your giving and leaving a legacy.

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  • Finance
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Many Australians leave a gift to charity in their Will. A gift in your Will, also known as a bequest, is the donation you make when you include a portion of your estate to a not-for-profit organisation or charity.  

Planning to leave a gift or bequest to non-profit organisations or charities in your Will is a way to continue supporting causes close to your heart long after you are gone. Charitable bequests can be made alongside distributions to children, family members and friends, or your entire estate can be distributed to charities. Before leaving a gift or bequest in your Will, make sure your estate plans are in order.  

Estate plans

An estate plan records what you want to happen to your assets after death. It can include documents such as:  

  • Your Will.
  • A testamentary trust (as part of your Will).
  • Superannuation binding nominations.

It also covers how you want to be cared for, medically and financially, if you can no longer make your own decisions. This part of your estate plan may be in documents such as:  

  • Any powers of attorney.
  • Power of guardianship. This document gives someone the right to choose where you live and make decisions about your medical care). 
  • An advance healthcare directive. This document outlines your needs, values, and preferences for your future care. 

The documents you choose will depend on your situation and what affairs you are comfortable trusting others to manage on your behalf. Get legal advice if you are not sure. 

Your Will

A Will is a legal document stating what you want to happen to your assets when you die. It is part (but not all) of your estate plan.  

Your Will can cover things like:  

  • How do you want your assets shared?  
  • Who will look after any young dependants?
  • Any trusts you want to set up.
  • How much money you would like to give to charities.
  • Plans for your funeral. 

It is vital to have an up-to-date Will. If you die without one, the law decides who will get your assets, which may not be who you intended to receive your assets.  

Making your Will

You can get your Will written by a solicitor (for a fee) or by a Public Trustee. A Public Trustee may not charge if:  

  • You are a pensioner or aged over 60, or 

  • Nominate them to carry out the instructions in your Will (that is, to be your executor).  

The rules vary, so visit the Public Trustee office website for your state: 

Ensure you put your Will in a safe place and tell someone close to you where you are keeping it.

Updating your Will

It is important to update your Will as your situation changes. For example, if you:  

  • Get married

  • Divorce or separation

  • Have grandchildren

  • Have a significant financial change

  • Lose your spouse (or someone mentioned in your Will)

Super and your Will

A binding nomination directs to whom your super fund trustee gives your superannuation benefit when you die. If you do not nominate someone, the super fund trustee will decide who receives your money.  

Family trust and your Will

If you have a family trust, it continues after your death. The trust determines who gets your assets, even if your Will says something different.  

Leaving charitable gifts in your Will

Once your estate plan is up to date, you are ready to consider leaving gifts to not-for-profit organisations or charities in your Will. Leaving a gift in your Will is a great way to support the causes you care about after finalising your other financial considerations.  

What can I gift in my Will?

When making a gift to a charity in your Will, it is important to consider the type of gift to make.  

There are many different assets that you can leave as a gift in your Will:  

  • Cash, stock, and bonds
  • Real estate properties and land
  • Personal property, like a car, jewellery, or artwork
  • Non-probate assets, like your life insurance policy or superannuation account

Types of gifts or bequests

There are several types of gifts your beneficiaries could receive: 

  • A monetary gift: You may want to include specific wording that takes account of inflation so that the gift does not lose value over time.
  • A specific asset: This could be real estate, shares, a motor vehicle, furniture, jewellery, or other things you own when you die.
  • Your residual estate: This refers to what remains of an estate after all debts and expenses have been paid and the specific assets and monetary gifts have been distributed.  

If you choose not to allocate any monetary gifts or specific assets, you can make a gift of your whole estate, rather than the residual estate.  

Your Will must be written correctly to ensure it gives away your whole estate. That is because any part of your estate not captured by your Will is dealt with under intestacy laws. 

Gifts can also be held in trust. There are numerous types of trusts that can set out how and to whom gifts are distributed. 

Issues that can arise when gifting to a charity

If you are considering leaving a gift to a charity in your Will, you should be aware of the following issues which may arise.

Correctly naming not-for-profit organisations or charities in your Will

It is important to identify the charitable organisation by its correct legal name. If the charitable organisation stipulated in your Will is not named correctly, then it may confuse and become difficult for your executor to distribute your gift after your death.  

Some charities can be known by the public as one name but may have a different registered name.  

Also, some organisations have similar names and goals, or there could be a subtle difference between the national and international names of the organisation.  

To avoid mistakes, ensure you include the Australian Business Number (ABN) or Australian Company Number (ACN) and the address of the charitable organisation in your Will.

The national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has a search tool you can use to find the correct naming details of any registered charity.

Contested Wills  

It is important to remember that a family member or other eligible person can contest (challenge) your Will if you have excluded them and decided to leave a part or all of your estate to charity in your Will.

Courts can reduce gifts to charities significantly or remove them altogether, to make adequate provision for a person who has been left out of your Will and who they determine you had a moral obligation to provide for in your Will.  

Giving to the charity regularly during your lifetime may help establish a connection between you and the charitable organisation, which can form evidence to prove your intentions in how you wanted your estate distributed after your death. Gifting to charity during your lifetime will also reduce the assets forming part of your estate that could become subject to a family provision claim.

It is important to obtain legal advice if you wish to substantially benefit a not-for-profit organisation or charity in your Will to the exclusion of family members. 

For further reading: Smith Family Law, Include a Charity,


All insights and information provided should be considered general advice for educational purposes only. As we are unaware of your personal circumstances, the information in this article should not be misconstrued as personalised financial advice. We recommend seeking advice from a qualified financial professional before making any major financial decisions. 

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