How to write a letter of wishes
We all want to ensure our money, assets and possessions are passed on faithfully to our beneficiaries when we’re no longer around. And writing a letter of wishes is one way to make your feelings known. In this guide we’ll explain how and why you might want to put your farewell wishes in writing.
Your letter of wishes is your opportunity to give guidance to those managing your estate on how you’d like your assets to be dealt with. Unlike a will, a letter of wishes is not legally binding, and the executors are not legally obliged to follow any requests made in the letter. Therefore, if you wish to ensure that certain personal possessions go to certain beneficiaries, perhaps because these items have sentimental value, this should be dealt with in your will.
While a letter of wishes is no substitute for a will, it can provide practical and emotional support to your executors, family members and trustees created in the will. While some laws regarding wills and inheritance differ throughout the UK, you can write a letter of wishes to accompany a will whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
As the letter of wishes is not legally binding, you must take care that the letter of wishes does not contain anything that could conflict with your will.
Anything relating to the management of your estate can be covered by your letter of wishes. Here are some examples:
- Information about how you’d like your money, assets and personal possessions to be allocated when you’re no longer around.
- Details about who should be informed of your death, and if anyone in particular should not be informed.
- Guidance on whether you’d like to be buried or cremated, plus any relevant detail about the funeral service you’d like, for example, if you wish to have a humanist funeral.
- Explanations about decisions you’ve made that may be considered controversial; for example, if you’ve omitted someone from the will.
- Details about your children’s future, such as who they should live with, and any ‘leaving wishes’ in relation to their religious upbringing or education.
- The date of the declaration, and the names of your executors or trustees.
- The letter, which could begin with a summary of your aims, followed by a priority list of beneficiaries. It can then describe the factors you’ve taken into account, the age at which beneficiaries should receive their inheritance, and other information, such as whether the partners of your children should have a claim to inheritance in the event of a divorce.
- Your signature as the settlor, and of any other settlor, if applicable.
How to write a letter of wishes
Your leaving wishes should be expressed in simple, jargon-free English so that you leave no room for misinterpretation. As your farewell wishes may contain sensitive information about people’s right to an inheritance, you may wish to write about these in a considerate, matter-of-fact style, rather than inflaming any tensions. It’s also important that your letter of wishes doesn’t contradict anything in your will, otherwise even if your most important goodbye wishes may have to be disregarded.
Your letter of wishes is a confidential document, whereas a will can potentially become public, so it’s an opportunity to state any preferences so that any disputes can be resolved more easily when you’re no longer around. Also, in some circumstances you may wish to withhold sensitive information from family members, which is where a list of wishes can be beneficial.
But your farewell wishes are not simply about who gets to keep what; it’s a chance to put in writing any reflections and words of encouragement to your family members that could be a priceless memento for years to come.
There is no defined moment in your life that you should write a letter of wishes, so essentially, you can write one at any time. Typically, people choose to write a letter of wishes alongside a will, as the details will be easier to remember and there is less chance of omitting key information. It’s worth remembering that your list of wishes should ideally be stored with the will, so that the documents are easier to locate. Since the letter of wishes is not a legally binding document, you can rewrite sections at any stage, and unlike a will, it doesn't need to be witnessed. You may wish to check the letter at regular intervals, as your personal and family circumstances may have changed, not to mention any new legislation relating to inheritance.