Personal Touch: The Role of a Letter of Wishes in Estate Planning

A letter of wishes is a document that can be put in place alongside your Will. This gives guidance to your executors, your loved ones and your trustees, if you appoint any.

It is not legally binding, but it can be very useful to let people know what you wish to happen in certain circumstances.

Unlike your Will, a letter of wishes will never be made public. A Will is published if probate is applied for, a letter of wishes will only be seen by those to whom it is addressed.

This means that you can express yourself honestly and openly and go into detail about what you would like to happen and why. Unlike a Will, the letter does not need to be witnessed, so you can keep it completely confidential if you want. You can also easily update it yourself as and when necessary.

What is included in a letter of wishes?

Your letter of wishes can include anything that could help those dealing with your affairs after your death. It should not conflict with the terms of your Will, but can add detail and information that may be useful.

Common wishes that are expressed include:

  • What sort of funeral you would like, to include whether you want a burial or cremation
  • A list of who to notify of your death and the details of your funeral
  • An explanation of decisions you have made in your Will, for example, if you have not left an inheritance to someone
  • Who you would like to have personal items that are not dealt with specifically in your Will. These could be pieces of jewellery, pictures and items of furniture
  • Guidance for your children’s guardians. Including such things as the type of schooling you would like them to have, where they should live and what religion you would like them to follow.
  • Guidance for your trustees on how to distribute money left in trust. For example, if you have left money in trust for your children, you could specify how you are happy for it to be used. Maybe towards their education, travel, a car or a deposit for a house
  • How you would like trust funds to be managed and invested, for example, you may prefer ethical investments
Why is a letter of wishes important?

A letter of wishes can be of great help and reassurance to those left behind. They will appreciate knowing that the arrangements they are making are the ones that you would have wanted.

It can also help avoid misunderstandings. Everyone knows what is expected and the reasons why you have made certain decisions.

When should I make a letter of wishes?

You can write a letter of wishes at any time, but it is common to write it at the same time as making your Will. This can be helpful, as you will be clear about the contents of your Will. You ensure that the letter of wishes complements your Will and does not contradict it in any way.

It can also be stored with your Will. You should not attach it to your Will as nothing should ever be attached to a Will. However, it can be kept in the same packet.

It should simply be signed and dated, but not witnessed. The risk with it being witnessed is that someone could try to claim it is a codicil to your Will. This would make it therefore legally binding.

You can write your letter of wishes yourself or ask your estate planning advisor to draft it for you, following your instructions. If it is written by an outside party, you can be sure that it will be clear and unambiguous. Thus reducing the risk of a disagreement or misunderstanding as much as possible.

You can review your letter of wishes at the same time as your Will. This should be at the time of any major life changes, such as marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. We recommend reviewing your estate planning every 3-5 years.

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