Why Write a Letter of Wishes?

22nd February 2019Siobhan Rattigan-Smith4

When writing a will it’s important that you get your wishes down for who should be appointed as executors, trustees or guardians and how your estate should be distributed in a binding fashion. 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 additionally to your will to provide extra guidance.

There are so many uses for a letter of wishes that we can’t list them all in one article, so we’ll focus on the most common uses for them:

1. Give your guardians some guidance

You’ve probably considered who you would want to care for your children if you died 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 raised and how you wish the guardians to support them.

2. Make your funeral wishes clear

A letter of wishes could include your preferences for burial or cremation, for what kind of ceremony you want. You could even include everything down to what music should be played, what readings should be read, and what kind of flowers displayed.

It is important that you make your funeral wishes known to your family as well as including them in a letter of wishes though. This avoids the funeral being carried out before your wishes are found.

 3. Give instructions to trustees

If you have included any trusts in your will that give your trustees wide powers over how the trust is distributed, known as ‘discretionary trusts’, a letter of wishes is recommended. Under these types of trust it is totally up to the trustees how they manage the funds and which of the named potential beneficiaries they benefit. 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 could benefit your spouse and children you could request that the trustees treat your spouse as the main beneficiary for the rest of their life.

What you write in a letter of wishes isn’t legally binding, it is 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 likely have lots of personal chattels. These are 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. 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 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 you can simply write a new letter without having to make a new will.

5. Exclude someone

If you have chosen to exclude someone from benefitting from your will your will writer will have advised you on what to include in your will and what the consequences the exclusion could have for your estate. They should also advise you to write a letter of wishes to detail your reasons for the exclusion, as this may be considered by the court if the excluded person did try to bring a claim against your estate. In these circumstances the letter is sometimes referred to as an ‘exclusion letter’ instead.

Letters of wishes aren’t legally binding, but they’re useful for making sure you have got your less formal wishes for your estate across. If you need further advice on how a letter of wishes can support your will contact your will writer or find a member through our Find a Member page.

Siobhan Rattigan-Smith

After graduating from the University of Lincoln with a 2:1 in Law in 2014 Siobhan has dedicated herself to will writing as the head of the Society’s technical team. Siobhan is also the lead tutor for The College of Will Writing, teaching a handful of courses including our SWWEPP 4-day introductory course.


  • Peggy

    28th July 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Could you direct me to some example letter of wishes?


    • Sam Smith

      9th April 2021 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Peggy,

      Thank you for your message and apologies for the delay in our response.

      As the content of a letter of wishes is so varied, I’m afraid we don’t have any example letter of wishes that we can provide you with.


  • Andrew Upton

    24th October 2021 at 8:07 am

    This is a really good explanation of the merits of Letters of Wishes.
    I hope many people read and benefit from your article.


  • Peter Richardson

    21st March 2022 at 10:16 am

    An excellent reminder of the areas where clients should consider a clause directing executors to a letter of wishes.
    Funeral direction and personal items most common reason in my experience


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