We regularly stress the importance of letters of wishes, to be thought of alongside Wills and/or Trusts, to the individuals and families who we work with. In this blog Clare Finn guides you through letters of wishes, what they are, why they are used and what they should cover:
What are they?
They are separate letters that are usually kept with a Will or Trust Deed to explain your wishes and give guidance to an individual or group of people. These letters do not form part of the Will or Trust document.
Why are they Used?
They give the person making a Will or creating a Trust, the opportunity to express their personal wishes on various matters using language that is not as formal as that used in a Will or Trust Deed. This gives guidance to people carrying out their wishes, usually Executors and Trustees, who have been appointed in the legal document that the letter supports. These letters are not essential but are extremely useful, for you, to give guidance to the people who carry out your wishes, so they know they are doing what you wanted. If you change your wishes, you can add to or rewrite the letter.
What can letters of wishes cover?
Anything! But conventionally:
Most Wills include a clause where you can say if you want to be buried or cremated but you might want to tell your family and friends about the send-off you would like and they will find it very helpful to have details about the arrangements they should make. A letter from you could say, for example, if you would prefer a wooden casket or a cardboard box, the music to be played at the service, the type of service you want, which funeral director should be used, where the funeral should take place, the readings, music, catering, or that there should be no service. You can say whether there should be flowers or if you would like donations to a favourite charity and any other details that family and friends will find useful.
Letters to Guardians
The guardian appointed in a Will are responsible for making decisions about the welfare of a child whose parents have died before the child reaches 18. Many people find choosing a guardian the hardest task when completing their Wills. A letter of wishes is a great way of telling the guardian about areas in your child’s life that you want them to know about. You might want to tell your guardian about the sort of education your child should have, the family friends and relatives they should keep in contact with, the sort of sports, hobbies and activities your child enjoys, their food preferences, any religious faith or other lifestyle choices that the family have made that you would like your child to continue.
Letters to Executors about personal belongings
Many Wills make no reference to personal items, sometimes a clause in a Will refers to “personal chattels”, which basically means your personal possessions. In a letter you can give your executors detailed information about how your personal belongings should be distributed. This could include your jewellery, your plants, your clothing or particular ornaments in your home that you want a particular friend or family member to have. They may not be worth much money, but your friends and family may be very touched that you remembered them in this way. You can include information about how you would like your belongings to be disposed of, such as donating clothes and furniture to a favourite charity. Remember that even though these “gifts” are not included in your Will , the value of your personal belongings is still an asset of your estate. If you give things to friends and family before you die, or change your mind about who should receive an item, its simple to rewrite the letter, and you do not have to go to the trouble and expense of changing your Will.
Letter to Trustees
Arguably the most important.
The Will or Trust Deed that sets up the trust is likely to seem a dry wordy document. A letter giving guidance, the personal input that your trustees will need to know they are fulfilling their role as you would like, may be invaluable to them and the beneficiaries whose trust fund they are looking after. The Will or Deed will contain all the powers and flexibility under the law but this letter is your chance to give the personal angle. Like the letter to guardians mentioned above, it will be important for the trustees to know what your children like and what is important to them, whether they are young children, adult children, or vulnerable people. Use this letter to tell your trustees about the beneficiaries and what you want for them; this will help your trustees decide how the Trust fund should be used. This may be the type of medical treatment or physical therapies that your child might need, or the football clubs they follow or holiday destinations they have enjoyed. It might be important to you and your child that they live in a particular location, or have contact with a charity.
There may be a number of beneficiaries but one’s needs may be different, an explanation of how these needs are best met will help the trustees.
What is important for you and your beneficiaries may change so keep the letters under review, so that when needed your trustees have the current information.
Why do a letter of wishes?
The letters are not legally binding but the information you provide in the letters will be useful to the people who are carrying out your wishes.
The letters do not become public documents so remain personal to the people they are addressed to; very rarely will the beneficiaries see them and a beneficiary can only rarely force the executors or trustees to disclose the contents of a letter of wishes. When dealing with a trust, the trustees will welcome the guidance when dealing with a role that can be baffling and even overwhelming.
If you would like more information about drafting a letter of wishes in relation to a Will or Trust, please do not hesitate to get in touch.