Letter of Wishes – what is it and why have one if you are updating your Will as a result of separating from your partner?

We welcome Ian Flack, Managing Director at Flackwoods, to the FLP blog to explain what a Letter of Wishes is, and why you should think about one when re-writing your Will after divorce.

If you are in the process of divorcing from your partner you should make sure your Will is up to date. When you prepare your Last Will and Testament, there is an option to include a Letter of Wishes. As there’s a lot to consider and often, the main focus is on the Will itself, here is a guide for writing a Letter of Wishes.

What is a Letter of Wishes?

  • A guide to your personal wishes
  • A non-legally binding document
  • Can be included in clauses within your Will
  • Free to write and update

A Letter of Wishes is a document which accompanies your Will, and while not legally binding, it gives your executors and trustees a guide to help ensure your personal wishes are carried out.

One of the reasons you may like to write a separate Letter of Wishes is that if your Will becomes a public document after your death, in the case it goes to Probate, your Letter of Wishes will remain a personal document. There is no charge to writing a Letter of Wishes and you are free to update it whenever you wish.

Legalities

When writing your Letter of Wishes be careful not to put anything which could conflict with your Will or even cause it to appear ambiguous. Your Letter of Wishes should be written in plain English, and be signed and dated. However, it should not be witnessed, this is to avoid any claim that it has become a legal Will or codicil.

List your assets

It’s a good idea to include a list of all your main assets such as bank accounts, life insurance policies, and expensive items such as jewellery, together with their location. This will help your executors to administer your estate. These items must also be included in your Will, since a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding.

What else can be included in your Letter of Wishes?

You can use your Letter of Wishes to ensure that the correct people are notified of your death. There may also be cases in which you do not want certain people notified. These can be included in your Letter of Wishes as well.

Your funeral wishes

This is the place to specify the style of funeral you want, whether it be burial or cremation. You can also include any specific instructions regarding the service, as well as where you would like to be buried or have your ashes scattered.

Guidance for your money and assets

You can leave guidance for your executors as to how you would like your money managed, and how any trusts created in your Will should be run.

Guidance for your children

While your Will appoints a legal guardian for your children, your Letter of Wishes can be used to advise guardians on how you would like your children to be raised. This can include any religious upbringing, their education, or where they will live. It is important to consider their future as well and be open to the fact that as they grow their needs and situation will change.

A chance to explain

The reading of your Will may prove a shock to certain people; maybe you decided to exclude someone or changed your mind and wanted to leave assets to someone else at the last moment. Your Letter of Wishes is your chance to explain your decisions and it may help later if you think a controversial decision could be challenged.

You can also remove any confusion here, if you chose to intentionally exclude someone from your Will. If you don’t mention someone in your Will, it could be construed as an oversight, however, if you name them here and give reasons for their exclusion you can remove any potential confusion.

Charges to updating your Will

Once you have had your Will drawn up and signed, there are costs involved to updating it. So if you make any significant new acquisitions, it will be necessary to make amends, resign and then pay any fees incurred. This can be avoided by including a clause in your Will that asks your executors to distribute your personal possessions in accordance with any Letter of Wishes found together with your Will. If done properly, you can then simply update your Letter of Wishes to distribute your personal possessions as you decide.

Final messages of affection

Ideally, we would all get the opportunity to communicate important messages to loved ones before we go, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Your Letter of Wishes is your chance to pass on your final thoughts, or any words of wisdom and encouragement to those you leave behind.

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