A letter of wishes is a non-binding document created by a testator and kept with the will that can serve as a guide to the trustees regarding specific aspects of the testator’s estate. In this edition of Did you know? we are going to look at the different purposes of a letter of wishes.
Gift of chattels
If the will gifted personal chattels to the trustees, this should be accompanied by a letter of wishes. This would detail any gifts that the testator wishes to make but did not wish to detail in the will. The advantage of this approach is that the testator can make changes to this letter at any time without the need to rewrite their will.
This would also be an advisable option if the testator shows a desire to make specific gifts but is unsure of what items they wish to gift or who these gifts should be made to. This way, the immediate requirement for a will can be put into place without delay and the testator can think over the gifts in their own time and update the letter as they see fit.
If the testator wishes to gift items that hold significant value (sentimental or otherwise), it might be worthwhile to include these gifts in the will as such gifts must be made (if the testator still owned them at the date of death) whereas gifts in the letter of wishes are non-binding and the trustees are not obligated to fulfill those wishes.
Use of trusts
Using a letter of wishes for any trusts that provide the trustees with discretionary powers is highly advisable. The testator can express how they wish the trustees manage the trust as far as their powers allow. A common example is with the use of a discretionary trust for the benefit of a child who is likely to use their inheritance unwisely, e.g. drink or gambling. The letter can state that the trustees are to only benefit this child to assist with rehab, or only when they appear to have improved on their issues.
Or, when using a life interest trust with power to advance capital, the letter can state at which points capital can be released to the life tenant of the trust and the manner of this. For example, the trustees could loan capital to the life tenant rather than giving it outright.
A letter of wishes assists the trustees in understanding the intentions of the testator at the time of making the will and the letter, giving the trustees some perspective when they are making any decisions regarding the trust.
If a testator is specifically excluding any individuals from their will who could have a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, as well as keeping file notes, it is highly advisable for the testator to write a letter in their own words to detail the reasons for the exclusion. If a claim were ever brought forward, the courts would use any letters of wishes when deciding whether to award the claimant any inheritance. Again, this allows the courts to gain a perspective and understand the actions of the testator at the time of writing the will.
A letter of wishes can also be used to provide up to date contact details for any person named in the will. Individuals can move or change their contact number several times between a will being written and the date of death, so the letter can ensure that those details are accurate and kept with the will to assist the executors contact the beneficiaries of the will.
If the testator does not wish to specify their funeral wishes in their will or decide to change any parts of their wishes at a later date, they can do so in a letter of wishes rather than updating their will. The funeral wishes in a will are non-binding, therefore there would be no need to rewrite the will for this.
Care of pets
A letter of wishes can also be used to provide detailed guidance for the care of their pets. This could include keeping multiple pets together, or specifying health and dietary requirements that a new carer of the pets may need to know when they take the pets in.
At the time of writing the will, if the testator has not decided on who should care for their pets after death, the pets can be given to the trustees to refer to a letter of wishes. The testator can later decide on who they would like to care for the pets and include this in a letter of wishes without the need to rewrite the will. If they change their mind at a later date, they can simply amend the letter of wishes.
Care for children
A young parent’s primary concern will be regarding the care of their children. After appointing appropriate guardians for their children in their wills, the testator may wish to provide guidance for the guardians that they can refer to at any time. This can express the desire for the children to go to university or follow a particular religion as well as keeping in regular contact with certain family members.
What can WillPack do?
WillPack can draft letters of wishes for most circumstances for a fee. We have instructions forms in the Partner Area of our website that cover our more requested drafted letters of wishes, otherwise we can accept details of what the testator would like the letter to cover as the instruction. However, WillPack will not draft a letter of wishes to detail the reasons for an exclusion in the will. This is because we believe such letters are better written by the testator in their own words.
We also have template letters of wishes in the Partner Area for those who wish to draft the letters themselves.