Donating & bequeathing personal possessions to charity

What is a bequest?

A ‘bequest’ is defined in Chambers 21st Century Dictionary as: ‘an act of leaving personal property in a will’. Simply put, making a bequest (or bequeathing) involves leaving instructions on how specific assets and personal possessions are to be distributed after your death and naming the individual recipients or charities in your will.

Individual bequests & the need to be specific

All too often, family relationships can be complex, particularly when divorce or other form of family division is involved; friends, too, go in and out of favour. Your opinion about which charities you wish to support may also shift during the course of your lifetime. Making sure that your intentions about bequests to specific family members, friends and chosen charities are unambiguous and clearly documented in your will is, therefore, crucial.

Miscellaneous/Small personal possessions

When deciding on what to leave and to whom, it is all too easy to overlook the allocation of your smaller, often seemingly low value possessions. Now, this could be a big mistake, as chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the total value of these smaller items, once you start looking into the matter, in greater depth! More important, however, is the sentimental value that these miscellaneous Items represent. Indeed, leaving small personal gifts is the perfect gesture with which to honour somebody who has touched your life, in any way. Even a small low-value gift will mean that the beneficiary knows how much you appreciated them. The recipient doesn't have to be a close family member or friend; merely someone or something such as an institution or charity that has impacted meaningfully on you as an individual.

Expression of wish letter & small bequests

In addition to bequeathing/leaving personal possessions and donating to charity formally in your will, you could also write an informal ‘expression of wish’ letter, which spells out how you would like smaller gifts to be distributed. You could draw up the expression of wish letter yourself and then change it as often as you like. But, do keep a copy with your will so the executors know where to find it. You could also include photographs to identify items, if you think that is necessary.

Charitable bequests

According to Charity Choice (,‘38% of people leave a legacy to charity in their will’. Apart from the feel-good factor associated with leaving money or personal assets to charity in your will, there’s the added bonus of charitable bequests being exempt from inheritance tax.

Top tip for making charitable bequests:

When detailing any charitable bequests in your will, always identify the charity of your choice by its charity registration number; this way, you’ll avoid any ambiguity and possible dispute when it comes to distributing your estate.

Useful Resource

For more information on bequeathing/leaving personal possessions and donating to charity in your will, check out the Charity Commission website: