Traditionally, wills have covered everything relating to our death from who gets what, to music to be played at our funeral. 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.
Here, Louise Harris explores further what ‘letters of wishes’ can cover, and how they can provide help and guidance for the loved ones we leave behind.
Your will gives the legal framework of your estate. It sets in stone who will look after things for you (executors/trustees), who will get what (beneficiaries), and who might look after your children (guardians) if they’re under 18.
Your will is a legally binding document, and it compels your executors to deal with things ‘to the letter’. If they don’t, they can be sued!
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.
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.
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 and how to say it
You must not try to alter the terms of your will through a letter of wishes. Your will makes binding legal ‘decisions’. Your letter of wishes is there to give helpful guidance (and nothing more!) to those left to deal with your final 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.