What is a letter of wishes?
A letter of wishes is a non-legally binding expression of the testator’s personal wishes. It can include requests relating to the testator’s funeral, possessions or estate administration. A letter of Wishes is in addition to a legally binding Last Will and Testament. It is often used to supply supplementary information to the instructions provided in the Will.
What is a letter of wishes used for?
Providing instructions for your funeral arrangements – This could be your wishes in regard to Burial or cremation, location, decoration or wake.
Providing instructions on how you wish for certain assets of low value or chattel to be distributed – This could be distributing specific possessions to certain people or charity.
Explaining the decisions, you have made in your Will – This could be explaining why you have not included someone or why you have included someone unexpected.
Providing an explanation of what your intentions were by distributing the estate in the way you have chosen – This could be any tax management strategies you have put in place.
Providing guidance on what a beneficiary should do with their inherited assets
Providing Guidance on how assets that are held in trust should be handled or used
Leaving instructions for Guardians of minor children – This could be in regard to education, living arrangements or use of their trusts.
What is the difference between a letter of wishes and a Last Will and Testament?
A letter of wishes should not be witnessed like a Will. A Will is a legally binding document whereas a letter of wishes is not. Having a letter of wishes witnessed can cause complications or confusion as it could be seen as a Will rather than a letter of wishes. This can make the original Will vulnerable to challenges and risk causing either one or both to be invalidated. It is important that there is a clear difference between the Will and the letter of Wishes to avoid any risk of contention.
As, unlike a Will, a letter of wishes is not legally binding, the executors are not legally obligated to follow any requests made in the letter. This can be beneficial as it allows certain actions to be taken more easily without the necessity of formal legal procedures. For example, “I wish for grandchild A to have my vase and Grandchild B to have my tea set.” Personal requests like these can be actioned at any point and to the executor’s discretion. There is also no need for an official receipt to provided. Although it is good practice to keep them documented. If an unofficial request made in a letter can no longer be fulfilled, for any reason, it is a simple case of not having to take any action and the executor is not liable for loss to the beneficiary if the request cannot be honoured. If a request in a will lapses it can be a more complicated process. The correct procedures would need to be followed, which take time and can sometimes be costly.
Seeing as executors do not have to action a letter of wishes, you are solely reliant on the person addressed in the letter to honour your requests. This means it is important to choose someone you trust as well as ensuring that any important requests have been included in your actual Will.
Sometimes grief can cause friction between executors and beneficiaries, and this may influence how a letter of wishes is carried out. They may also choose at a later date for a variety of reasons not to action your requests. For that reason, if there are any requests you feel strongly about, or the assets referred to are of a higher value they should be addressed in your Will. Your executors are responsible for administering your estate according to the wished in your will. This means gifts and legacies written into your will must be distributed according to the Law. Gifts and legacies in a letter of wishes do not.
You can write more than one letter of wishes and they can be addressed to different people. You can make personal requests to as many people as you want but wishes that concern your assets or estate administration would be best addressed to your executor. Having too many letters of wishes can increase the chances of confusion or contradiction. So, it is best to keep to a few important requests to a few trustworthy people.
The person to whom you address your letter of wishes is not obligated to show the other beneficiaries or even the executors the letter. If you have written a letter of wishes to you executor, they are also not legally forced to provide the contents of the letter to anyone else. This allows them to act with discretion and to honour your wishes in the best way they see fit. This can help to reduce the chances of offending someone or triggering any disputes. However, if the will is challenged the letter of wishes may need to be disclosed.
A letter of wishes can be a useful method of expressing personal wishes that are not covered or relevant to your Will. It is important if you have written a letter of wishes to keep it somewhere safe but easy to locate or alongside your Will.