Letter of WishesA letter of wishes is a document drawn up to accompany your will. However, unlike your will, a letter of wishes is not legally binding, instead, it provides guidance to the individuals dealing with your estate and/or any trusts after your death.
What is a ‘letter of wishes’?
A letter of wishes is a document drawn up to accompany your will. However, unlike your will, a letter of wishes is not legally binding, instead, it provides guidance to the individuals dealing with your estate and/or any trusts after your death. A letter of wishes allows you to guide your executors, trustees and/or family on specific, sometimes difficult, matters that require discretion, and ensures that they are aware of how you want them to deal with your assets. A letter of wishes may also inform them how you wish them to approach the exercise of their powers.
One important characteristic of a letter of wishes is its confidential nature. Unlike a will, which becomes a public document if a grant of representation is obtained, a letter of wishes always remains confidential to the executors, trustees or family members. This confidentiality enables you to feel more comfortable in including a higher level of detail regarding your family and affairs. In addition, there is no requirement for a letter of wishes to be witnessed. Therefore, if you so wish, a letter of wishes can be written in complete privacy and may only become known after your death.
What should I include in a letter of wishes?
Given that the purpose of a letter of wishes is to support your will and aid the individuals dealing with your estate, a letter of wishes should not include anything that conflicts with your will. That said, a letter of wishes can include a wide array of items including; funeral wishes, guidance as to the distribution of your personal items, and long term guidance concerning on-going trusts established on your death.
One thing that may reassure you when writing up your letter of wishes is the knowledge that you can update and alter it at any time to reflect any changes in your opinion or circumstances. As stated above, a letter of wishes does not have to be formally drawn up or witnessed. It must be written in clear English, signed and dated, but this has no impact on your ability to review it any time before your death.
One important thing to include in your letter of wishes is, where relevant, any guidance which will inform your future executors and/or trustees on how to exercise their discretion in the context of certain future decisions. It will be a lot easier for them to exercise their powers when they have an accurate understanding of your intentions.
Common items found in a letter of wishes include;
- Funeral instructions.
- Instructions regarding who to notify of your death.
- Details of how you would like your personal items to be distributed.
- Guidance to your executors and/or trustees on how you would like any money to be managed.
- In the context of trusts, details relating to the main beneficiaries and your wishes about when to make payments.
- Advice for guardians on how to raise your children.
- Explanations about why you have excluded someone from the will if you think that it may be a controversial decision or challenged later.
Why do I need a letter of wishes?
It is common, in the context of wills, for there to be a notable amount discretion at play, usually in terms of how executors and/or trustees are to deal with the will in the future. If a discretional element of your will materialises it is important that your executors and/or trustees know your intentions behind the structure of your will. They need to understand your main aims, how you would like them to look after all your assets, and when and how to make financial distributions.
There are numerous contexts in which significant levels of discretion will arise, for example, you may have a personal motivation for delaying a family member’s inheritance. If this is the case, and if your executors and/or trustees are to exercise their discretion correctly in this circumstance, they must be aware of your original motivation.
When is a good time you write my letter of wishes?
As stated above, you can write and re-write your letter of wishes at any time you see fit. Ideally, however, you should think about writing your letter of wishes at the same time you write your will. In this way, the issues you focused on while drafting your will are fresh in your mind, and therefore easily transferable to your letter. This will ensure that you do not forget, duplicate or contradict anything in your will.
Another reason for writing your will and letter of wishes together is that it is a helpful way of ensuring that the two documents are kept together, as they should be.
Once you have written your letter of wishes it is a good idea to review your letter and will regularly. A sensible recommendation would be to carry out this review every two years. In this way, you can ensure that you account for any changes in your personal circumstances or the law.
How can NRG help you?
Although you are not required to get a solicitor to draft your letter of wishes there are important benefits in having an experienced private client solicitor involved in the process. NRG’s private client team have amassed a wealth of experience in writing wills and in the running and administration trusts. This experience places them in an ideal position to guide you through the issues you should consider when writing your letter of wishes. Our private client team understand that drafting a letter of wishes should be a collaborative process and are more than happy to translate your wishes into a coherent structure befitting of such an important document.
Partner / Head of Private Client & Property
Peter has a wide experience of private client and property arrangements together with residential conveyancing work. This includes complex Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Peter has dealt with many intricate and difficult estates and has experience of contested probates and Inheritance Act Claims.