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What is a letter of wishes?

A letter of wishes is a confidential document which can be written to supplement a Will. Whereas the contents of a Will are legally binding, the contents of a letter of wishes are not. However, a letter of wishes can still be useful in particular circumstances.


One example is when considering who should inherit any personal belongings such as ornaments, pieces of furniture or jewellery.

Whilst such items may have a monetary value, it is usually the case that people want to list each item separately in the Will because of the sentimental value they have placed on the item. Naming every item individually and confirming the full details of the intended beneficiary means the Will becomes lengthy and more cumbersome than intended.

A solution to this would be to pick a trusted individual and name him or her in the Will to receive the specific items with a wish that he or she should distribute them in accordance with a separate letter of wishes. The letter is then stored with the Will. This way, if there is a later change of heart about who should inherit any of the items or additional items are to be added, it can be done without having to change the Will itself.

However, the possible issues with taking this option are:-

  1. The person named to receive the items is under no legal obligation to distribute them in accordance with the letter. The contents of the letter of wishes would be viewed as nothing more than your wishes. He or she could keep the items;
  2. The person named to receive the items could pass away first or not have the required capacity to carry out the wishes;
  3. As the letter of wishes cannot be attached to the Will there is always the concern that the letter could be separated from the Will or lost.

A solution to issues one and two is to name more than one trusted individual to receive the items to lessen the chance of no-one being alive or capable to carry out the wishes. Alternatively you could name the Executors and Trustees (“Trustees”) already appointed in the Will to accept the items.

However, naming Trustees in this professional capacity would also carry a risk. The person or persons who are named in the Will to inherit the bulk of your estate (“residuary beneficiaries”) could claim these items as belonging to them and not those named in the letter. This is because the Trustees are under no legal obligation to follow the letter of wishes but they do have to answer to the residuary beneficiaries.

To stop this from happening, Trustees could be named to receive the items personally and not in their professional capacity. However, this takes us back to the first potential issue; the Trustees could keep the items for themselves.

It is therefore not advisable to consider these options when the items have a significant financial value or absolute certainty is wanted as to who will inherit the items but can be very useful to dispose of everyday possessions.

This is intended for general information only and should not be considered as giving advice in relation to any individual case nor be taken as applying to any particular case. No liability is accepted for any such use of the information.


Standout firm known for its personal insolvency work for clients including private companies, individuals and governmental institutions. Frequently acts for insolvency practitioners, assisting with the realisation of assets, both in the UK and abroad.

Chambers and Partners

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