What is a Letter of Wishes?
20 April 2017
By Head of Wills, Solicitor James Antoniou
When planning for the future, it’s common to think about what you would like to leave loved ones in your Will. However, there may be other things that you would like to say to people after you’ve died, or thoughts or wishes that you would like to share. These personal comments are usually placed in a Letter of Wishes. This is a separate document to your Will, but is typically stored alongside it so that it can be communicated to the recipient after your death.
The content of a Letter of Wishes can significantly vary. There is no template to follow; it’s literally a letter signed by you, setting out whatever you want to communicate to your Executors or family members. They can be an incredibly useful document to have and in this article we explore some of their virtues.
Why Not Put These Wishes in Your Will?
The simple reason is that your Will could become a public document if it goes to Probate after your death. Understandably, many people would rather certain information remains confidential between them and the recipient, rather than it becoming available for anyone to see.
When making a Will it’s common to choose a Legal Guardian for your children if they are aged under 18. Whilst the actual appointment of a Guardian appears in the Will, there may be guidance that you would like to give the Guardian about how you would want your children to be raised. It may be to do with any aspect of their upbringing, but most commonly there is a focus on religion, education and ethical beliefs.
Distribution of Personal Belongings
It’s possible when making a Will to include a clause in it that asks your Executors to distribute your personal possessions to in accordance with any letter found with your Will.
This is a flexible way of dealing with your belongings because, after making your Will, you could acquire new possessions that you would like to give away. In these circumstances, you would normally have to formerly amend and re-sign your Will to reflect this additional gift you want to leave – which would incur a cost if done professionally. However, if your Will is drafted in the right way, you can simply update your Letter of Wishes without the need to make any changes to your Will.
Exclusion of a Particular Beneficiary
There are sometimes situations where you may want to exclude someone from your Will. This may be someone who would normally anticipate receiving something from you, such as a spouse or child. Or it might be someone else that you are now estranged from.
However, your Will is a document that would normally set out who you want to benefit from your Estate, rather than name the people you wouldn’t. As you can imagine, if it named all the people you didn’t want to benefit, the Will could be pretty lengthy!
Therefore if a person hasn’t been named as a Beneficiary, it means they’ve been excluded from the Will. This can cause not only disappointment for the person concerned, but also may lead them to query whether their name was intentionally omitted, or whether the person was confused at the time of making the Will, or whether it was a mistake.
In this situation, having made a Letter of Wishes is crucial because you can set out your motives for excluding a particular person. If needed, this can be produced as evidence if a claim is made against the Estate, or if there is an allegation that the exclusion was never what the person really intended.
Personal Statements of Affection
Finally, it’s normal to think about what life would be like for your loved ones after you’ve died and, in a perfect world, we would all be able to say our final goodbyes to those closest to us before we pass away. Unfortunately, few are so lucky to be able to do this and the opportunity to pass on your final thoughts on life, or perhaps words of wisdom or encouragement, to those you leave behind is lost.
In order to make sure that these are communicated, many people, at the time of making a Will, use the opportunity to write a letter to their loved ones and store it alongside their Will. Whilst you can write this letter anytime or communicate your feelings during your lifetime, having your final thoughts in writing is something the family could treasure and form part a valuable part of the legacy you leave behind.
Free Storage of Your Letter of Wishes
When you make a Will with Co-op Legal Services you can write a Letter of Wishes which we will store alongside your Will, free of charge. We will be storing your Will free of charge anyway, so why not include a Letter of Wishes too?