When writing a Will it’s important that you ensure that all your wishes are recorded so that it’s known who you want to appoint as your executors and trustees, and if you have children, who you want to be their guardians. It’s also important to set out how your estate should be distributed in a legally binding way. But what about your more general wishes for your estate or for your children? A letter of wishes is a very useful document that you can prepare in addition to your Will to provide extra guidance to help your executors know what you intended when writing your Will. There are many uses for a letter of wishes. This article focuses on the most common uses for them.

1. Give the guardians of your children some guidance

You’ve probably considered who you would want to care for your children if you passed away while they were still minors, and you’ve probably appointed these people as guardians in your Will. In your letter of wishes you can express exactly how you would prefer your children to be brought up, which school you would like them to go to, where you’d like them to live and how you would their guardians to support them.

2. Make your funeral wishes clear

Whilst your Will can state your preference for a burial or cremation, a letter of wishes could specify what kind of funeral ceremony you want. You could even include other things such as what music should be played, what readings should be read, and what kind of flowers should be displayed. It’s important that you tell your family about your funeral wishes as well as including them in a letter of wishes. This avoids your funeral being carried out before your wishes are found.

 3. Give instructions to your trustees

If you have included a trust in your Will, known as a discretionary trust, that gives your trustees wide powers over how the trust funds are to be distributed, to who, when and how much, a letter of wishes is recommended to ensure your intentions are met. Under these types of trust it is totally up to the trustees to decide how they manage the funds and which of the named potential beneficiaries benefit from the trust fund. In a letter of wishes you can include your wishes for how you want the trustees to use their powers, for example, if the trust is set up to benefit your spouse and children you could request that the trustees treat your spouse as the main beneficiary for the rest of their life before benefiting your children. It’s important to know that a letter of wishes isn’t legally binding. It’s just guidance. The trustees should consider it when managing the trust though, and professional trustees will certainly try to stick to your wishes, wherever possible.

4. Distribute small personal items

You probably have lots of personal items. These are called ‘chattels’ and are legally defined as ‘tangible movable property except money and items held as an investment or mainly for business purposes’. It’s quite a broad definition that could include your household ornaments, jewellery, furniture and cars, amongst other things.

If you have a lot of personal items that you want to gift to specific people the easiest way to do this can be by including a clause in your Will that gifts all items fitting that definition to your executors with a wish that they distribute them following your letter of wishes. Once this clause is included in your Will you can then write a separate letter of wishes to list the items you want to gift and who you want to gift them to. This is a very flexible way of dealing with your personal items as if you change your mind in the future you can simply write a new letter of wishes without having to make a new Will. If you have personal items that are valuable, you should specify who you want to get those in your Will rather than a letter of wishes.

5. Exclude someone

If you choose to exclude someone from your Will, we will advise you on what to include in your Will and set out for you what the consequences of the exclusion could mean for your estate. We will also advise you to write a letter of wishes to detail your reasons for the exclusion, as this will be considered by the Court if the excluded person tries to bring a claim against your estate after you’ve gone. In these circumstances, the letter can be referred to as an ‘exclusion letter’ rather than a letter of wishes. If you don’t write a letter then the Court may have little or nothing to consider.

We’d love to help you make your Will and write your letter of wishes. For further details and more information please call Fiona on 07799 213 721 or email fiona@willsandwisheslegal.co.uk.

We can help you with Wills, lasting powers of attorney, trusts, executor assistance for probate and document storage.

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