Julius Beer, a young Jewish man fleeing religious persecution in Germany, moved to London more than 150 years ago. He succeeded in getting work and was quickly noticed for his entrepreneurial industry. He went on to run a successful newspaper business and became the Rupert Murdoch of his day. But, despite his business success, a comfortable home, wife, children… Julius was unhappy. He craved the respect and acceptance of his peers in Victorian society, not merely their recognition for his moneymaking skills. Feigning civility, they refused to welcome him into their inner circles and poured scorn on his Jewish roots behind his back. The man suffered his whole life from anti-Semitism and class-based snobbery. The sense of injustice rankled deeply. 

Entering old age, Beer still harboured a deep resentment at his treatment and plotted his revenge on those who shunned him. Top society figures at that time were buying burial plots in an Egyptian styled terrace at the fashionable cemetery at Highgate in north London. Julius Beer spent more than £5,000 (the equivalent of nearly £3m today) on buying a large plot and commissioning the finest Italian craftsmen to build a massive mausoleum which would dwarf in size and grandeur those of his rivals. He spent a fortune on putting his old enemies in perpetual shadow. Over a century later you can still visit the mausoleum – the largest in the cemetery – with its huge and elaborate pointed roof. 

Listening to the cemetery guide tell Julius Beer’s story and gazing at the huge mausoleum left me feeling sad and determined. Sad that, having overcome so many obstacles, Julius was finally consumed by bitterness over being sidelined by people less brilliant and gifted than he; and determined to avoid making that same fatal error of dwelling on the prejudice of others. I want to live well and die well too. How will you be remembered after you die? What legacy you will leave after your passing? And will the money your leave behind be put to good use? During Victorian times, the rich and famous spent huge sums on elaborately carved stone tombs and mausoleums, designed to ensure that the memory of their lives and reputation lived on. Crumbling headstones covered in ivy and briars are what remain of their legacy. 

These days the fashion for elaborate funerals has mostly gone. Even spending large sums on tributes fashioned from exotic flowers has changed, as most families request that this money be used instead to benefit charities that their loved ones supported. This trend to help the living rather than decorate the tombs of the dead extends to legacies. Most of us know that if we die without making a will, there is no guarantee that our estate will go to the people or projects we want to benefit. So what steps should you make to ensure that your wishes about who should benefit after your death are kept? Can you choose to bless ministries you supported during your lifetime after your death? 

A gift for the next generation 

A nephew, on discovering how the Toybox charity had used the legacy his uncle had included in his will, told Christianity: “I was thrilled to discover Uncle Harry had contributed to the Toybox Refuge for street children. He loved children and, perhaps because he didn’t have any of his own, we had a very close relationship. I’m sure he would have been very moved at the idea of his money providing a place of safety for so many disadvantaged children in Bolivia.” 

Toybox works in Latin America with street children who need a safe place to stay, away from the streets or dangerous family situations. The refuge in Cochabamba provides a way for children to take time off the streets as they sort out their lives and are helped to readjust. Thanks to some key generous donations, including Uncle Harry’s legacy, the refuge is giving some Bolivian children a wonderful opportunity to turn their lives around. 

Livability is another Christian charity which receives legacies from grateful donors. Barbara Bampton’s father had a stroke in 1995 and became disabled. That’s when the Bampton family started to take holidays at a specially adapted hotel run by John Grooms – now Livability. “We really appreciated the help and support, on a practical and personal level,” says Barbara. 

“It was a great holiday location, with the added care my father needed. There wasn’t anywhere else like it. The lengths the staff went to in helping, and the fact that Livability is a Christian charity, really struck a chord with me. Disability isn’t something that just happens to other people – it could touch any of us. Livability helped raise the quality of our lives. I hope that my legacy gift will help the charity continue to help disabled people to experience what we did.” 

Last orders 

No one really wants to think about writing a will. But it’s a practical demonstration of care for those who are closest to us. Making a will means you decide what happens to your estate when you die. As Christians we know everything we have, including our money and possessions, is a gift from God and held in stewardship. It is important to provide for our loved ones – Paul, writing to Timothy, said, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Making a will fulfils our responsibility to think and provide for those who will follow us. It is also a wonderful opportunity to give thanks for the past and invest in the future.

Scripture Union (SU) regularly benefits from legacy income. Often these are from the estate of people who have appreciated attending SU summer camps or reading the daily Bible reading notes which SU continues to publish more than 100 years after it first began. 

“Both my late parents were committed to daily Bible reading through SU for many years, and their parents before them,” says Grace Spring (not her real name). “I still have my grandfather’s SU lapel badge which he always wore on his jacket. 

“I found my late father after his fatal heart attack, which must have happened as he got out of bed. I discovered his Bible downstairs with the previous day’s notes open. One of his final acts on earth the evening before had obviously been to read his SU passage even though he was not feeling at all well. He was prepared and ready for entrance into glory a few hours - and such an example to our generation. 

“Though sad at losing my mum and dad who died within eight weeks of each other, my comfort is that they were not separated for long. They attributed their near 60 years of ‘successful’ marriage to their commitment to daily Bible reading and prayer together, as it made sure they always ended the day at peace with God and each other.

“Dad wanted to be sure that the charities he supported in life were not suddenly abandoned after his call home,” says Grace. “I’m delighted part of the estate he left is being shared with organisations such as SU.” 

Claire Southall, key relationships director at Premier Christian Radio, regularly gets emails or phone calls from listeners and other supporters who want to leave a legacy to Premier. “I always advise callers to contact a properly qualified professional to help them write their will,” she says. “For the sake of a relatively small amount you can avoid the risk of making mistakes which could mean your will is invalid or ineffective if you write your own ‘homemade’ will. “Many listeners love the idea that after their death they can continue to support Premier’s ministry,” she continues. “A legacy is a gift which you specify in your will, it can be a cash sum or a specific asset like property or shares, or it can be the residue of the estate once all other beneficiaries have been provided for. Some people like to give a legacy to their church as well as a charity – it’s up to them.” 

Gifts in Wills account for over a third of The Children’s Society’s voluntary income. Supporters often leave gifts as a natural progression of support shown during their life – one example being Jane Sullivan who collected donations in her local Parish for many years. 

In her Will she wanted to continue this support and left a percentage of her estate to support young people in her area. The Liverpool Accommodation project was closet to her home. The project works with young people who are at risk of being homeless and aims to set them up with a place of their own and a fresh start. Jane also left the project the contents of her house, which were put to good use straight away by John. 

John is 17 and grew up on a tough Liverpool estate. His mother and grandparents are alcoholics. The project helped John rebuild his life by finding him a place to live and helping him get a job. He now has a future to look forward to. He’s a keen footballer and his team recently won a national cup competition. His aspiration is to qualify as a football coach, to help young people in a similar position to his own. 

“Mum supported The Children’s Society for many years, she organised coffee mornings, sponsored walks and collected boxes in and around her local parish community,” explains Jane’s daughter, Mary. “Her hard work and dedication are an inspiration and she wanted to continue this support long after she’d gone.” 

In death as in life 

Legacies are headline news at the moment: unfortunately the negative rather than the positive. Quite rightly, we are now focussing on how the selfish actions of this and former generations have ravaged our world and fuelled carbon emissions. All of a sudden we are being forced to recognise that our attitude and lifestyle choices have to change, otherwise we will leave a blighted and poisoned world for generations to come. Our Christian responsibility to think beyond our own lifetime, not burdening our children with a toxic legacy, equally applies to thought and consideration about the assets God has entrusted to our care. 

The choices we make today will affect the legacy we leave behind. The Leprosy Mission received a letter recently, which is typical of the many who remember the charity’s excellent work to counter the pain of leprosy. The letter from Mr H states: “I have great pleasure on behalf of my late father and brothers and in my role as executor to my father’s will, to enclose a cheque toward the work of Leprosy Mission. My father throughout his life was a great supporter of Leprosy Mission. He was very keen to see the organisation continue to reach out and help those less fortunate than he. We know that you will ensure that these monies will be put to the very good use that he really valued.” 

Thanks to the forethought of Mr H’s father, people are being helped and blessed in Christ’s name. If we take time to leave a legacy for causes dear to our hearts then we can do the same. 

Useful contacts

• Charities Aid Foundation provides advice on legacies and other matters relating to charitable giving. www.cafonline.org

• Citizens Advice Bureau website has a ‘your family’ section with helpful advice on wills. www.adviceguide.org.uk

• Directgov the government’s own website has useful sections on wills and planning your personal finances. www.direct.gov.uk

• HM Revenues and Customs carries to date information on its website on Inheritance Tax and other taxation issues. www.hmrc.gov.uk

• Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship may be able to assist you with contact details of a local Christian solicitor. Email admin@lawcf.org stating which area of law (eg wills, family) you require. www.lawcf.org

• The Law Society represents solicitors in England and Wales and can help put you in contact with a solicitor. www.lawsociety.org.uk In Scotland contact www.lawscot.org.uk

• Which? publishes a helpful guide to making a will and administering an estate. Wills and Probate by Paul Elmhirst, costs £10.99. www.which.co.uk

• Highgate Cemetery is well worth a visit. The Beer mausoleum is in the overgrown western cemetery. Guided tours are available. For more information visit: www.highgate-cemetery.org