Whilst death is considered a taboo subject, many people like to make plans for when they are gone, and this is where a ‘letter of wishes’ can be useful.
We all want to ensure our money, assets and possessions are passed on to our family and loved ones when we’re no longer around. And many people may have specific requests that would seem too informal to draft into a Will.
Writing a letter of wishes is one way to make your feelings known on what you would like to happen if you were to pass away.
In this guide we’ll explain how and why you might want to put your farewell wishes and requests into a letter of wishes.
What is a ‘Letter of Wishes’?
A letter of wishes is an informal document drawn up to accompany your Will and is passed onto your executor when you pass away. However, unlike a Will, a letter of wishes is not legally binding and acts only as guidance. Your executor can choose to ignore your wishes or requests if they wish.
For example, you may not have got round to discussing how you would like your funeral to be arranged. You could outline in your Will that you wish to be buried rather than cremated, and then create a letter of wishes which details other guidance on how you would like your funeral to be arranged.
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 wishes and requests are acknowledged.
Unlike a Will, updates made to a letter of wishes do not need to be legally rewritten, therefore you can keep it up-to-date to reflect your circumstances with ease.
Putting together a letter of wishes can be a less intimidating way to plan ahead.
Who Deals With the Funeral Arrangements?
When you pass away it isn’t always clear who is responsible for the funeral arrangements.
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 if you have not had this conversation or if you have not left a 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 any trusts that you have set up. And, like previous stated, is an informal document written in your own words.
However, 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
It tells your executors, trustees and/or family your views and instructions on how you would like certain aspects of your estate to managed. It can also give further details and specific instructions on aspects of your Will.
Examples of what can be put into a letter of wishes are:
– 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
– Distribution of your personal items such as jewelry, furniture, and photographs
– Guidance on how you would like any money to be managed
– Longer term guidance with regards to on-going trusts, including 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
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 Should I Write a Letter of Wishes?
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.
Lindsey Rawson, head of our Wills, Trusts & Probate department, can help you create an estate plan, help draft a Will, support you to deal with a persons estate when they pass away and get all your affairs in order ready for retirement. She specialises in Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, probate and inheritance tax planning.
Lindsey acts for clients in South Yorkshire and beyond and can be contacted by calling 0114 249 66 66 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org