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Letters of Wishes


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:

Funeral Wishes

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.

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4 Responses to “Letters of Wishes”

  1. David says:

    Hi I am a beneficiary to my father and wish to see
    my father’s letter of wishes. The trustees and my
    Mother who took her brother as a trustee on board.
    Where we do not agree with this from day one.
    They are the trustees refusing to show me my father’s letter of wishes now. Do I have a write to see this as a beneficiary. Thank you.

    • Katherine Miller says:

      Thank you for your comment. A Letter of Wishes is the Settlor’s guidance to the Trustees but it is a non-binding document so the Trustees are not obliged to follow any guidance given. In some situations, the Settlor does not want the Letter of Wishes to be disclosed to the beneficiaries and the Trustees therefore refuse a request. Previously the Court has decided that Letters of Wishes are confidential and don’t need to be disclosed to the beneficiaries. However, a beneficiary could apply to the Court to enforce disclosure but they would need to demonstrate a good reason to do so.

  2. Gill Miller says:

    My Father left a wish list alongside his will over 3 years ago. I have two sisters and one brother. My Father left his house to my eldest sister in his will. In his wish list he instructed the eldest sister to sell her property, a flat, and divide the proceeds equally between my brother, my other sister and myself. She sold the flat eventually and gave my brother his share but did not adhere to Father’s wishes and give myself and my other sister our share. This resulted in her keeping £44,000. How is it that a property of such worth is allowed in a letter of wishes with the risk of the executor not fulfilling her duties. My sister and I have endured unbelievable pain and anguish this last 3 years knowing my Father left this earth believing his final wishes would be carried out. How do we also go about warning others of this vile act. I would never want anyone to endure what we have been through. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks

    • Katherine Miller says:

      Thank you for you comment. A letter of wishes is generally used to provide guidance or additional information to Executors or Trustees. Letters of Wishes are not binding documents and, therefore, do not need to be followed. This usually means that they cannot be enforced by others. If your father left his property to your sister absolutely then she becomes the legal owner and can deal with it as she chooses. You don’t mention why he chose to deal with the property this way and not give it to all of his children equally. Also, was he given legal advice on this point or did he put a Will in place himself? The reasons for setting his Will up in this way may be helpful to know and, depending on the facts at the time he made the Will, there may be other courses of action for you to consider. If you are able to establish more facts about your father’s intentions and the making of his Will then you could consider taking legal advice to determine if anything further can be done.

      A letter of wishes are very useful for certain aspects of planning your Will. For example, setting out additional guidance on funeral arrangements or distributing personal items, but they are not binding and should not be relied on if you want to ensure that particular instructions are followed.

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