31 January 2024
When you begin forming your estate plan, you may tick off the crucial legal documents first. Drafting a will, registering a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), and writing funds into trust are all common steps.
For most people, putting the legal and financial essentials in place is the first and last item on their estate planning list. Yet there is another beneficial step you could take to make the transition of assets smoother for your loved ones: carefully drafting a letter of wishes.
Keep reading to learn how a letter of wishes differs from a will, how to draft one, and why this element of estate planning is so important.
A letter of wishes can be written alongside your will, but it is a separate document
Wills and letters of wishes are often drafted up simultaneously, but they are separate documents. It is important to understand the legal differences between your will and letter of wishes, as well as the content that could be contained in each one.
Your will is likely to be drawn up with the help of a legal professional, and may contain:
- Who should inherit each of your assets, such as your pensions, investments, properties, cash, and possessions. If they will be shared among several people, your will should state how these will be divided.
- The details of these assets, including account information and anything else your executor might need.
- The person or people who should look after any children under 18, or any pets you have.
Crucially, a will is a legally binding document that could be used as evidence in court if an inheritance dispute took place after your death.
In addition to your will, you may wish to write a letter of wishes.
This is usually addressed to the executor (the person who will carry out the instructions in your will) and may contain additional requests and explanations, such as:
- The rationale behind why you have split your assets in a certain way
- The age at which you would prefer your beneficiaries to receive your wealth
- Your funeral preferences, such as the music you would like to be played, or specific readings your family might deliver
- Whether you would prefer for your children to maintain full control of the wealth they inherit, or if it may be shared with a spouse.
Remember: a letter of wishes is not legally binding, nor should it replace your will. It is simply a way for you to expand on your choices and offer additional insights into your estate planning decisions and preferences.
3 tips for drafting your letter of wishes
1. Consider the emotional ramifications of your requests
Death is always an emotional time for families, and sadly, will and inheritance disputes are all too common.
The latest research from the Personal Finance Society (PFS), conducted in 2022, found that 3 in 4 people are likely to experience a will, inheritance, or probate dispute in their lifetime.
Moreover, when you are drafting the letter to your executor, ensure you consider the emotional ramifications of what you are asking them to do.
For instance, if you decide to prioritise certain beneficiaries over others in your will, qualifying this with your personal rationale might make your decision clearer for those involved. Or, if you request that your beneficiaries do not receive the funds until a certain age, explaining why you would prefer this might help them to accept your choice.
Putting your beneficiaries at the heart of your decision-making might help you create a letter of wishes that covers all bases with compassion and clarity.
2. Keep the letter jargon-free
The written word is a powerful form of communication, but it can also be easily misinterpreted.
As such, making sure your letter of wishes is crystal-clear is very important.
Here are some tips for writing clearly:
- Use uncomplicated language that gets straight to the point.
- Avoid shorthand or slang.
- Check the spelling of any names, addresses, or other important information contained in the letter.
- Type the letter out to avoid confusion over handwriting.
Short, succinct writing could serve you well when completing your letter of wishes.
3. Ensure the letter does not contradict your will
Seeing as your letter of wishes exists to qualify the decisions you make in your will, it is essential to make sure that both documents contain the right information.
Making mistakes in your letter of wishes could mean that the document is discounted altogether. Remember that your will is legally binding, so if the documents contradict one another, your will is likely to be considered correct.
If you feel comfortable, it may help to ask a trusted loved one or professional to look over both your will and letter of wishes, and cross-reference the information contained in each one, before you seal them.
Bespoke financial planning could help you formulate a careful, comprehensive estate plan
Ultimately, estate planning is about putting your family first. Setting your loved ones up for a prosperous future could bring you immense peace of mind as you progress on to your later years.
As such, speaking to a financial planner could help you with all aspects of estate planning.
From meticulous Inheritance Tax planning to the emotional side of estate planning, a financial planner may be able to offer ongoing support to you and your loved ones. If you would like to draft a letter of wishes in addition to drawing up a will, for instance, a professional may be able to help you do so with confidence.
Then, if you were to pass away, we could maintain this trusting relationship with your family for the years to come, and help them with any wealth guidance they need during a time of grief.
We’re here to empower you and your family to make informed financial decisions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 8080200 to speak to a financial planner.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.
The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate Lasting Power of Attorney, estate planning, tax planning or will writing.