Do I need a letter of wishes alongside my will?

Making a will is an important part of lifetime legal planning, but do you need to put all your wishes in your will? Where should you set out your wishes for gifts or your funeral arrangements? Is it appropriate to explain your decisions about your legacies?

These are some of the questions which we are asked when people want to make a will for the first time, or if they 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 for your personality to shine through,’ says Sue Owens, Senior Partner and Head of the Private Wills and Private Client team with Borneo Martell Turner Coulston, Solicitors.

‘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.’

Examples of when a letter of wishes might be needed include:-

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. Leaving gifts by way of a letter of wishes is often useful as it prevents complicated legal issues arising if the item is no longer in your possession when you die, or if your chosen beneficiary has already died.

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(s), or even who should be notified of your death and how they should be notified. You might, for example, have an idea of a specific announcement that you would like to be placed on certain social media platforms.

Trusts and children

If your will contains any trusts, or if you are appointing guardians for your children, your letter of wishes could be focused on providing guidance as to how you would like the trust to be managed, or specific ways you would like your children to be raised.

Explanations

Very often 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.

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.

Generally, anything that you would like to be absolute should be included within your will, however you also need to ensure that everything contained within your will is appropriate and has a solid legal grounding. You should seek advice from one of our solicitors before making any will and before writing a letter of wishes to ensure that it is suitable for your purposes and that you understand the legal, and any other, implications.

Our solicitors can advise you on wills and letters of wishes, as well as drafting the documents for you to ensure that all your requests are clear and legally binding.    

For further information, please contact Sue Owens or Clare de. Banke who are both Partners in the Wills and Probate team on 01604 622101. Borneo Martell Turner Coulston has offices in Northampton and Kettering. Home visits or telephone/video appointments are also available.