Ask an Expert – Letter of Wishes
Whilst death and dying is sometimes seen as taboo subjects, many people like yourself do think about their funeral arrangements. Some people may wish for a specific person to deal with their funeral and others may want their body to be disposed of in a specific way.
However when you pass away it isn’t always clear who is responsible for the funeral, particularly if the opportunity to have that conversation with any of your friends or family never presents itself. Putting together a ‘letter of wishes’ can be a less intimidating way to plan ahead.
Who deals with the funeral arrangements when someone passes on?
When a person makes a Will the focus is usually on their assets and possessions, and who will inherit these. Less pressing is a person’s funeral arrangements.
Under the present law, the executors appointed in a Will have ownership of the body and are, technically, the decision makers for funeral arrangements.
However the funeral arrangements are often arranged by whoever chooses to step up to the plate and make arrangements. This could mean your wishes may not be fulfilled.
What is a ‘letter of wishes’?
A letter of wishes is a document drawn up to accompany your Will. I usually advise to only outline if you wish to be buried or cremated in a Will and then create a letter of wishes which will be given to your executor along with your Will.
A letter of wishes is an informal document, not legally binding, and gives details on your wishes, often relating to instructions given in your Will.
The benefits of this is that you do not need to have an awkward and potentially upsetting conversation about your wishes, to ensure that your requests are acknowledged.
Also, unlike a Will, updates made do not need to be legally rewritten therefore you can keep it up-to-date to reflect your circumstances with ease.
Why do I need a letter of wishes?
Though many people would prefer to not discuss the subject of death it’s important that your executors know the intentions behind aspects of your Will. For example if you have outlined general instructions for how you would like your funeral to be arranged you can be more specific and informal in your letter of wishes.
What can I put in a ‘letter of wishes’?
A letter of wishes provides guidance for the people dealing with your estate and/or any trusts that you have set up. And, like previous stated, is an informal document written in your own words.
It tells your executors, trustees and/or family your views on how you would like your funeral arrangements to be made.
- Who to notify of your death, or, who not to tell.
- The funeral you want – whether to have a burial or cremation, and any specific instructions about the service. You can set out where you would like to be buried or have your ashes scattered.
It is important to note that if you wish to donate your body for medical or scientific research, that you must make arrangements to specifically pledge your remains to the institution to whom you wish to leave your body to under the Human Tissues Act.
When else might I use a “Letter of Wishes”?
The purpose of a letter of wishes is to support the will and aid the persons dealing with your estate. It therefore should not contain anything that conflicts with your Will.
The letter can cover any aspect of your estate, such as funeral arrangement or the distribution of your personal items, and it can also provide longer term guidance with regards to on-going trusts established on your death. These are usually more detail instructions of matters addressed in your physical Will, however they may be instructions not
- Details of how you would like your personal items to be distributed after your death, such as jewellery, furniture, and photographs.
- Guidance to your executors and/or trustees on how you would like any money to be managed.
- Where trusts are involved, details relating to the main beneficiaries and your wishes about when to make payments. You can also include your thoughts on how long the trust should continue.
- Advice for guardians on how to raise your children. This can include wishes for their religious upbringing, education and where they live.
- Explanations about why you have excluded someone from the will, if you think that it may be a controversial decision or challenged later.
You can write a ‘letter of wishes’ at any time and your Solicitor can advise you on the contents of the letter when you create your Will. However the letter should be written by you in your own words.
The letter should be kept with your Will and given to your executor when the time comes.
Written by Stephanie Chung, Wills, Trusts & Probate Solicitor.
To discuss writing a Will along with a letter of wishes, or adding a letter of wishes to your current Will, you can call the Wills, Trusts & Probate team here at Howells on 0114 249 66 66 who cover the whole of South Yorkshire.
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