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What is a ‘Letter of Wishes’ and what are the benefits of having one?

A Letter of Wishes is a document that can be drafted to accompany your Will. It can provide important guidance to the executors, trustees and/or family dealing with your estate or with any trusts that are to be set up after your death. It sets out your views on how you would like your assets to be dealt with, and how you would like your executors and/or trustees to exercise their powers.

While there is an element of discretion to your executors and/or trustees in making decisions, it can be desirable to make your intentions clear in order to help them fulfil your aims and wishes after your death. It creates a strong moral obligation for those involved in your Will to follow your guidance.

In contrast to a Will, a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding, it is commonly confidential, and you can easily change or review it.  

  • It can be amended or updated by you whenever you wish, without the need to amend your Will.
  • Unlike a Will, which becomes a public document if a Grant of Representation is obtained, a Letter of Wishes can remain confidential to your family, trustees and/or executors. Therefore, it typically contains more detail of one’s family and affairs, and it can be written in your own words. It is important it is written in a clear and concise way to avoid any possible misinterpretations.

What can my Letter of Wishes cover?

Your Letter of Wishes can cover anything relating to the management of your estate. It can provide a great deal of flexibility, but equally it can be used to guide your executors and/or trustees on more specific decisions you have made.  Here are some examples:

  • Information on the allocation of your personal possessions. You can list the personal possessions you would like specific people to receive (provided you have the requisite clause in your Will giving the executors flexibility to distribute).
  • You can explain how you would like any trustees in your Will to exercise their discretion. This may relate to appointing capital or income to beneficiaries, or you can explain how you would like them to manage your money or any assets you would like them to keep if possible (e.g. a house).
  • You can include details about your children’s future, explaining how you would like funds to be used for your young children and/or how you would like them to be brought up, for instance in relation to their education or religion.
  • You can explain how you would like your trustees/executors to consider taking Inheritance Tax planning steps, such as passing assets down a generation if your Will contains a trust. This may be relevant when including the surviving spouse as a beneficiary, particularly if she or he may have decided they have sufficient funds for their financial stability without the trust assets.
  • You can explain decisions you have made that may be considered controversial or that may be challenged, such as omitting someone from your Will.
  • You may include specific funeral wishes, such as instructions for your funeral service.

When should I write a Letter of Wishes?

You can write a Letter of Wishes at any time, but we recommend writing a Letter of Wishes alongside your Will as it very important you do not duplicate, forget, or contradict anything in your Will. You do not want to risk your wishes being disregarded.

The Letter of Wishes should be signed and dated, but it must not be witnessed in the same way as your Will because you want to avoid any possible claims that it has become a legal Will or Codicil.

Your Letter of Wishes should be stored along with your Will, but do not attach it to the Will as this risks invalidating the Will. You do not want it to become separated from the Will because this could result in your executors and/or trustees being unaware of your wishes, and therefore, your wishes may not be followed.

Does a solicitor have to prepare a Letter of Wishes?

You can write a Letter of Wishes in your own words and this can provide a way for your voice to continue to be heard after you have died. But you should seek legal advice to ensure that the Letter of Wishes is suitable for your purposes and that it does not conflict with your Will. A member of our experienced Private Client team can guide you through the issues to think about and can provide further direction in drafting a Letter of Wishes in an appropriate format.

Our March 2022 article covered the importance of reviewing your Will every 5 years, or when a major change in your life occurs. Our Private Client team also recommends regularly reviewing your Letter of Wishes to ensure it covers changes in your personal circumstances and that it accurately supports your Will.

Written by Anouschka Fenley- Paralegal

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