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The Singapore Law Gazette

President’s Message

Where there’s a will, there’s a way … to give a legacy.

(Adapted from opening remarks at a Community Foundation of Singapore-LSPBS “Legacy Giving” Webinar on 1 September 2020.)

Legacy giving is one of the best kept secrets in town. For many years now, I’ve often wondered why more charities had not jumped on the bandwagon of legacy giving. Why aren’t charities proactive in encouraging individual donors to give legacies whether via wills, CPF nominations, or even insurance policies? Examples abound overseas. I saw firsthand one such stellar example of a pro bono law firm utilizing this modality of legacy giving during our Law Society “Lawyers Go Global” mission trip to Sydney in 2018. 

We went to Sydney as a team to learn from cutting edge innovative Sydney based law firms on law firm models harnessing technology and niche services in order to consider adopting or adapting them in Singapore. The law firm that left a deep impression on several of us in the team was Salvos Legal, affiliated with the Salvation Army. They offer humanitarian legal services and have an outstanding history and genesis you can research on. They combine the best of both worlds in fee earning lawyers sitting side by side and working hand in hand with pro bono legal practitioners. Fee earners cross-subsidise the provision of pro bono legal services. It was a joy to see both pro bono practitioners and fee earners working harmoniously in a single setting and committed to doing good (directly or indirectly) as a firm. 

Salvos Legal turned legacy giving to charities into art form. They use radio announcements and organise Community Wills Days (where generous local solicitors prepare simple wills in return for a donation to the Salvos). They have built up a fair amount of expertise and essentially encourage the public to donate via legacy giving.

In Singapore today, death is still a taboo topic in some quarters. As an aging society with a silver tsunami, we need to speak about this elephant in the room. We need more discourse about prudent asset stewardship, legacy giving and planned and sustained giving long after we have left the earth. From the charity’s point of view, this could represent a creative fundraising modality. Indeed, local charities such as the Kidney Dialysis Foundation and the Singapore Children’s Society have started using donation via legacy giving. Closer to home, recently, to commemorate the life of CLAS founder, visionary and architect, the late Harry Elias SC, the Law Society Pro Bono Services in collaboration with Harry Elias Partnership have set up the Harry Elias SC CLAS Fellowship Fund. This Fund is a continuing and cherished memorial to Harry that will fund expenses arising from the CLAS Fellowship such as their remuneration and practice-related costs to ensure that young lawyers have a glorious opportunity to follow in the footsteps of legal legends and trailblazers like Harry E.

For the gift-giver, legacy giving has four distinct, discernible advantages. First, it allows the donor to give their own voice to their unique personality, values and beliefs for pet causes. Second, it creates a meaningful memorial of legacies that will perpetuate. Third, it positively impacts subsequent generations through a sustained giving. Fourth, it deepens the connection between the charity and the donor.

Where appropriate, probate, wills and administration specialists, private wealth law experts and general practitioners in client advisories could suggest legacy giving to clients.

There are nuanced issues to consider for the donor and the attending lawyer. The form of the giving, whether it’s memorial giving, legacy giving and so on, and the attendant risks involved. I shall not gloss over this aspect. Questions that need examining include: (1) how do you communicate to the testator or testatrix (person making the will)? (2) are the template clauses appropriate to express the donor’s wishes? (3) what about the testator’s/testatrix’s mental capacity; or more precisely, testamentary capacity? (4) from the donee charity’s point of view, what are the risks in accepting such gifts? These issues are fact-sensitive, complex in some cases and need careful analysis to avoid something going wrong (including misexpression of the testator’s/testator’s wishes).

The old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But the new saying I have for you is where there’s a will, there’s a way …. to give a legacy. You can have the nous and the know-how, to find that way for your donors. Legacy giving leaves a legacy for life. 

Partner, Dispute Resolution
Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP
Immediate Past President
The Law Society of Singapore