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 explorer 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 sets 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.
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.
If you’d like particular people to receive particular personal items (eg pieces 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!
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.
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.