What is a letter of wishes?

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A letter of wishes is a ‘side letter’ to help your executors after you die – eg expressing funeral wishes.

Traditionally, Wills have covered everything relating to our death from who gets what, to music to be played at our funeral.

Why have a Letter of Wishes?

There is however a school of thought that wills should only ever deal with things that are matters of law, and that any wishes or guidance that we want to leave behind, should be dealt with separately.  This will:-

  • Keep your Will simple
  • Reduce cost if your wishes change
  • Allow you to explain in your own words (and in as much detail as you would like) things like funeral wishes, views about your children, and so on

Here, we explore what ‘letters of wishes’ can cover, and how they can provide help and guidance for the loved ones we leave behind.

What to include in my Will

Your Will gives the legal framework of your estate. It is set in stone:-

  • Executors – who will look after things for you
  • Legacies – fixed cash gifts
  • Residuary Estate – who gets the bulk of your estate
  • Guardians – who will look after your children (if under 18)

Your Will is a legally binding document, and it compels your executors to deal with things as the Will sets out. If they don’t, they can be sued!

What is the difference between a Will & Letter of Wishes?

So, what about wishes or guidance that you might want to leave for loved ones? Well, for most of us, a Letter of Wishes is probably the better route, rather than cluttering our Wills with wishes about the education of our children, our funeral arrangements, and so on.

Unlike your Will, it is NOT legally binding.  It is perhaps most importantly going to give you the peace of mind of knowing you have made your executors/guardians and loved ones aware of your wishes.

Cost of a Letter of Wishes

One of the benefits of dealing with wishes outside of your will is that if those wishes change, you simply complete a new letter of wishes (yourself), and you don’t have to pay your solicitor to update your will!

So what things can they cover? Here are some ideas.

Funeral wishes

You can include as much or as little detail as you want, from the simple request for a burial or cremation, down to very specific arrangements for any service that’s to take place. People will often want to be as specific as hymns to be included, flowers to be used, and music to be played.

Example Letter – Here’s an example of the sorts of things a letter of wishes can cover, and how it might look. The letter can then sit with your original will. If your wishes change, you just update your letter of wishes! The letter can be signed at any point (ie: it doesn’t have to be signed when you sign your will, and for the avoidance of doubt, you don’t have to have one –it’s optional.

Personal items

If you’d like particular people to receive particular personal items (eg pieces of jewellery), your letter of wishes can set out your thoughts to help your executors. The law sees personal items (known as chattels) as being anything in your house that moves, and it also includes cars and even boats!

Guardians

Passing on the responsibility for the upbringing of our children is a huge request to make of someone. So, providing guidance for our appointed guardians can be extremely helpful for them.

If you have thoughts on education, and really anything personal that you want to make sure that the guardians know about, your letter of wishes is the place to set out those thoughts.

Gifting of Pets

Pets (cats, dogs, etc) are deemed to be personal possessions and as such can be gifted in the terms of your Will.  More commonly, this is likely to be dealt with in your letter of wishes.  Pet owners will often want to make some sort of financial provision for the person taking the pets on.   This cash legacy should be dealt with in your will.  And, be sure that you define the cash gift accurately.  For example, is it a fixed sum come what may (irrespective of the life expectancy of the pet)?  And/or, it would presumably be conditional upon the legatee actually taking the pet into their care?

What to say in a Letter of Wishes

There is no magic formula for how the letter should be set out. They’re generally addressed to your executors, signed and dated by you, and should simply set out as much helpful guidance as you can for those you leave behind.

What Should a Letter of Wishes NOT say?

Critically, a Letter of wishes should never seek to bind anyone, and critically to NOT contradict or confuse any of the legal terms included in your Will.  Your letter of wishes is there to give helpful guidance (and nothing more!) to those left to deal with your final wishes.

Can I deal with my Online Footprint in my Letter of Wishes?

Yes, you can deal with things like your social media and other online profiles and accounts (as long as there is no financial value to them).

Is a Digital Will different to a Letter of Wishes?

For most of us, our online footprint is ever-growing.  Increasingly referred to as our ‘digital estate’, it is helpful to leave guidance for our loved ones as to what we would like to happen to our TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and other online profiles.

This is something increasingly raising the question of a ‘digital will’.  Like a letter of wishes, a digital will is not legally binding on anyone, nor is its format or execution set in law either.  It is essentially a letter of wishes dedicated to our digital estate.

Read more about digital wills

Free Legal Guide

We hope you found this free legal guide on letters of wishes helpful. Do remember that it is just a guide, and not intended to be legal advice specific to you. If you would like advice, do reach out to expert solicitors by leaving a comment below, calling, or emailing us. Meantime a very big thank you for visiting QLAW – the digital law firm for everyone everywhere…

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