You have made a Will. Congratulations! This now means all of your affairs are in order, your Will can be easily interpreted upon your death and your family will understand your reasons for what you have chosen to include in your Will. Well, not necessarily. It can, at times, be difficult to understand someone’s Will after their death and it may be that a Letter of Wishes can clarify matters.
What is a Letter of Wishes?
A Letter of Wishes is as it says: a letter, which does not form part of your Will, but sits alongside, and sets out your wishes for matters such as the distribution of your personal belongings or the implementation of your specific funeral instructions upon death. These letters are not binding, but act as guidance for your executors to ensure that your personal wishes are implemented. It helps to provide an explanation to your family as to why you have done what you have.
A Letter of Wishes provides an opportunity to set out your thought process either at the time of making your Will or at a later date. In some cases, a Letter of Wishes can be the most important tool in assisting your executors in reaching pragmatic decisions in line with your specific wishes – providing guidance where your Will cannot. A Letter of Wishes can be key to assisting your executors to manage family expectations.
Unlike a Will, a Letter of Wishes is a private document. Following a death and where an application for Confirmation from the court is being sought in connection with a deceased person’s estate, the Will becomes a publicly registered document, but a Letter of Wishes does not. It remains personal to the people it is addressed to. It is a confidential document to your executors and trustees only. Unless your letter narrates that it is to be shared with family members affected after your death as a ‘reading’ to be made available alongside your Will, it will remain a private document. More often than not, Letters of Wishes never leave the hands of the solicitor and where issues are particularly sensitive, having a solicitor as one of the executors can help with managing these sensitivities.
Do I need a Letter of Wishes?
These letters can be particularly helpful where, for instance, certain family members have not been included as beneficiaries. Your letter gives you the opportunity of explaining, in your words, your reasons for this.
As we all know, family situations can be far from straightforward. Some family dynamics include remarriage, children from different relationships etc. meaning your Will might not provide for family members as they might expect. A Letter of Wishes explaining your thoughts may help to ease any family tensions. Without it, your family could be left unhappy and upset not knowing the reasons for receiving, for instance, a smaller inheritance in comparison to that of their siblings.
You may have very good reason for deciding to treat your children differently in your Will. For example, one may be far better off and financially secure, whereas the other may benefit from a greater inheritance. If this is not noted in a Letter of Wishes, children may feel side-lined.
This document has many uses. They can deal with complex and unusual assets, deal with specific business interests and can even narrate how you wish your dog to be cared for! They can also be used to explain the rationale behind particular funeral instructions.
It is a simple process to make a Letter of Wishes without the need to update your Will. The result is that it is a very flexible document and its confidential status means it can evolve as your life circumstances change.
Should you wish to discuss how having a Letter of Wishes in place could be beneficial, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Wills and Executries team who would be pleased to assist.