27 September 2021

Leaving a letter of wishes alongside your will

By Laura Weston, Chartered Legal Executive, Hayes+ Storr.

Making a will is an important part of lifetime legal planning, but where should you set out your wishes for small sentimental gifts or for funeral arrangements? How will you explain the decisions you made in your will? These are some of the questions we are asked when people want to make a will for the first time or wish to make provision for something out of the ordinary.

For your will to be legally binding, it must be worded using specific legal terminology which does not leave much scope for creativity or explanations.

Alongside your will, you can write a letter of wishes in which you can express yourself in a more personal way. While such a letter is not legally binding, it does place a strong moral obligation for those involved in your will to follow your guidance.

Uses for a letter of wishes

Gifts

One of the most common ways a letter of wishes is used is to leave small items, such as personal belongings, to certain beneficiaries without having to include specific gifts in your will. Provided your will references the separate letter of wishes, this is a perfectly acceptable and even a common way of leaving such items. Your chosen beneficiaries will not be legally entitled to the items, but your executors should ensure that they receive them unless there is a very good reason why your wishes cannot be honoured.

Funeral wishes

Another popular use for a letter of wishes is to outline funeral wishes. A letter of wishes relating to your funeral can include preferences as to cremation or burial, instructions for your funeral service, or even who should be notified of your death and how they should be notified.

Explanations

As well as offering the opportunity to express your wishes in relation to certain circumstances or specific gifts, a letter of wishes can also be used to explain why you have chosen to structure your will in the way you have.

For example, if you have left a greater share of your estate to one of your children or a charity, a letter of wishes can enable you to explain the decision more fully which may prevent or reduce discord between the family after your death. It will also provide evidence of your views should a claim be made against your estate.

A letter of wishes can be changed as often as needed, without you having to review your will each time, saving you time and money.

How we can help

A letter of wishes is a useful aid in ensuring that your voice can continue to be heard after you have died, however it is important to remember that it will not be legally binding, and it is equally important to understand when a letter of wishes is and is not appropriate.

For further information, please contact Laura Weston on 01263 712835 or email laura.weston@hayes-storr.com.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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