A letter of wishes can be drawn up alongside your will to act as guidance for your executors and trustees. Amongst other things, they allow you to set out how you would like your executors and trustees to deal with your assets.
In contrast to a Will under English Law, which becomes a publicly accessible document once a Grant of representation has been obtained, letters of wishes can remain confidential to your executors and trustees.
There are many advantages of having a letter of wishes drawn up, some of which are summarised below.
Make your Funeral wishes clear
A letter of wishes could allow you to set out full details of your funeral, from the location of your funeral and where you may wish to be laid to rest to smaller details including music you may wish to be played and flowers you would like to be displayed.
Although it is advisable to communicate any wishes you may have in your lifetime to your family members and/or executors, a letter of wishes can help your family fully understand the extent of your wishes and help avoid indecision or any potential disagreements. Should there be any disagreements then it will be the executor(s) that make the final decision.
Leaving assets in Trust
Should you wish to leave any part of your estate to be held on trusts whereby your executors have discretion as to how or which beneficiaries can benefit, then a letter of wishes could significantly assist your executors and trustees to understand your objectives and who / how you wish people to benefit.
You may have decided who you wish to appoint as your legal guardians to care for your children should you pass away before they reach the age of 18. A letter of wishes could act as guidance for your legal guardians to assist them with how you may want your children to be raised, for instance in relation to their education or religion.
You may have personal belongings, some of sentimental value, that you wish to leave for certain individuals, for example jewellery, artwork or a car. A clause can be inserted into your will directing your executors to distribute your personal belongings in line with your letter of wishes.
This is a very flexible way of dealing with your personal belongings as if you change your mind at a later date you can simply prepare a new letter of wishes rather than having to actually change your will.
Exclusion of a beneficiary
If you have decided to exclude a certain individual/s from your will, for example an estranged child, then you could set out the reasons for the exclusion in a separate letter of wishes. Should a claim be brought by the individual excluded from your estate at a later date then such a letter of wishes does act as evidence to support the defence of such a claim.
In summary, although letters of wishes are not legally binding documents, they can be very useful to write alongside your will to offer greater flexibility, clarity and guidance to your executors and trustees whilst minimising the potential for any disagreements to arise between family members.