Michael Bentley and his late wife Christine Caleidin moved to Tasmania in 2011 to be closer to nature.
“The way I look at it is, we’re part of nature, we’re not separate from nature. And so my relationship is sort of living with the natural world,” Mr Bentley said.
So special was their relationship with the natural world that they each committed to taking care of it beyond their lifetime.
When Ms Caleidin died in 2016, part of her estate went into setting up a fund for the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), a not-for-profit organisation that buys and manages private land in Tasmania and preserves its natural values.
Mr Bentley set up the Solas Fund with the TLC Foundation in Christine’s memory. When he dies, part of his estate will go to the fund, too.
“We wanted to be able to support an ongoing commitment to the preservation and conservation of Tasmania’s wild places and special places,” he said.
Conservation groups say more people are planning bequests
As climate concerns grow, the TLC, and organisations like it, say bequests are becoming more common, even for people in their 30s and 40s.
TLC chief executive officer James Hattam said there had been a recent increase in bequests and queries about bequests.
He said the organisation was getting about a call a week for more information, with people citing concerns about the climate and a loss of biodiversity.
“We always hear about things being destroyed, or that the trajectory of species around the world is just declining, and leaving a gift in your will is a really simple way to make a difference to nature,” Mr Hattam said.
It is estimated that baby boomers will collectively leave behind $224 billion each year until 2050, and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy is putting more effort into making sure people know a gift in their will is an option.
“Here is this opportunity for us to actually go, ‘Hey, in this wealth transfer, how can nature get a little piece of that and ensure we’re protecting the places we love?'”
At the Australian Conservation Foundation, gifts in wills manager Steph Ianni said a clear trend was emerging.
Enquiries from people wanting to find out more have doubled over the past year, and there has been about a 30 per cent increase in the number of people who have made a bequest to the organisation over the past two years.
“What we’re finding on the phones and in conversations with people is that there’s a lot of concern about climate-fuelled disasters and the next generation and the challenges they’re going to face,” Ms Ianni said.
“We have a lot of people who talk about really wanting to ensure they’re passing on a legacy and leaving the world in a better place.”
Wording should not be too restrictive
Both organisations said it was important to discuss the gift with the organisation to make sure it could be accepted.
Wills and estates lawyer at Simmons Wolfhagen, Megan Penno, said people wanting to leave a bequest should contact a lawyer and be clear about the entities they would like to benefit from the bequest.
“This sounds really simple … the main thing is that they have described the charity appropriately,” Ms Penno said.
“It’s very common unfortunately for a will to state what the person believed the charity to be called at the time, and it wasn’t quite correct.”
She said that could at times result in a “failed gift”.
Ms Penno also said the wording of the gift should not be too restrictive, in case the project, charity or organisation someone is donating to no longer exists after their death.
She said rather than donating to a specific project, it was safer to donate to an organisation or a cause in general.
Another issue that could arise is a challenge from family members.
There are cases where the decision-making capacity of the deceased is questioned, or family members can make a claim to the money based on their own needs, even if they are estranged.
Ms Penno said it was important to document relationships with any estranged family members, to minimise their likelihood of gaining a significant portion of an estate through a successful challenge.