Dos and Don’ts of a Letter of Wishes
Posted on 13th December 2022 at 14:27
A letter of wishes is an informal, non-binding document which is usually drawn up to accompany a Will or trust to guide those managing an estate or Trust fund. Here is a guide of the dos and don’ts when drafting a letter of wishes.
Why are they used?
You may choose to write a letter of wishes to offer guidance to your executors or trustees as to how you would like them to exercise their discretion whilst administering the terms of your Will or Trust. This may be a useful way to offer an explanation or your intentions and reassurance to your executors or trustees at what can be a challenging time.
It is important to note that a letter of wishes is never a substitute for a Will, codicil, or Trust document as they do not comply with the formalities of a valid Will or Trust document.
What can a letter of wishes include in respect of a Will?
• Funeral Wishes – Most Wills include a non-binding clause where you can express your preference in terms of burial or cremation. However, you may wish to provide additional details to your executors about the arrangements they should make, such as the type of coffin you would like, the type of service you want, where you would like to be buried or scattered, any songs to be played, any readings, flower arrangements, and any donations to be made to name a few.
• Letters to guardians – The guardians appointed in your Will are responsible for making decisions about the welfare of your children should you pass away before they reach 18. A letter of wishes is a good way to provide guidance to your guardians about the upbringing of your children. You may want to include advice about the type of education you would like them to receive, how any money should be used, the friends and family which they should keep in contact with, any religious faith, your children’s interests, their food preferences, and any other lifestyle choices that you would like your child to continue to have.
• Personal belongings – A letter of wishes can be used to provide your executors with detailed information about how your personal belongings should be distributed. You may choose to leave your personal chattels to your executors in your Will to distribute in accordance with your letter of wishes. This could include items such as jewellery, clothing, ornaments, books, and furniture. However, you should bear in mind that a letter of wishes is not legally binding and any items which you insist to go to specific people should be included in your Will.
• Reasons for excluding someone – There are various reasons why people may wish to exclude family members from their Will and a letter of wishes is useful way to set out the reasoning behind this. If such family member decided to make a claim against your estate, the court would consider your letter of wishes and reasons for excluding the individual. It could be that you have benefitted that person during your lifetime, or that you are no longer in contact with that person and do not wish for them to benefit from your estate.
What not to include in a letter of wishes
Whilst a letter of wishes offers a great deal of flexibility, they are not suitable for all purposes. For example, you should not leave monetary gifts within your letter of wishes as your executors and not legally obliged to follow the letter of wishes. Therefore, you must ensure that any monetary gifts are included within your Will to ensure that your chosen beneficiary receives it.
Also, if you wish to leave specific items to specific people, they must be included within your Will.
What are the benefits of drafting a letter of wishes?
As a letter of wishes is not legally binding, it does not have to be drafted in any particular way meaning that you are free to set out your wishes in your own words. This leaves more of a personalised message to your loved ones and can be a comfort to them once you have passed.
There is flexibility in having a letter of wishes as it can be updated and altered at any time to reflect changes in your circumstances without you having to review your Will each time, saving you time and money.
Another benefit is that unlike a Will, a letter of wishes does not become a public document after your death. This means the information can be kept confidential between you and your executors.
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