Your Personal Wishes Letter helps eliminate family feuds over the relatives and friends you want to have your personal items. We all have heard stories of family fights erupting over how to divide family pictures, necklaces, the stamp collection, or the wedding gift from Uncle Bill. The items may not have monetary value, but getting them to the right person can make a big difference to you—and to them. If you want to make sure that your granddaughter gets the pearl necklace you got for your high school graduation, or you have already promised your best friend that she gets your figurine collection, put your wishes in your letter.
Make it personal, too. You can use your letter to send important messages to your survivors. You might include special hopes you have for your grandchildren’s education, or the important values you want to pass on. This could be the place you tell them something you never got around to saying. It can be whatever you want it to be.
You’ll want to write your letter to the person most likely to take over your accounts if you become unable to manage your own financial affairs or after you die. This could be your spouse, adult child or other relative, your attorney, or the person you have selected to administer your estate.
Here are some ideas and examples for writing your Personal Wishes Letter:
A formal introduction to Your Personal Wishes Letter can help make it clear that what you write is an expression of your sentiments and not intended as a will, or an addition to or interpretation of your will.
After the introduction, you can express your sentiments, keeping in mind that your estate may be held liable for any false statements you make about a person or organization.
To My Executor:
This letter expresses my feelings and reasons for certain decisions made in my will. It is not my will, nor do I intend it to be an interpretation of my will. My will, which I signed, dated and had witnessed on __________________, is the sole expression of my intentions concerning all my property and other matters covered in it.
Should anything I say in this letter conflict with, or seem to conflict with, any provision of my will, the will shall be followed.
I request that you give a copy of this letter to each person named in my will to take property, or act as a guardian or custodian, and to anyone else you determine should receive a copy.
Explaining Why Gifts Were Made
In a will, it is a good idea to keep descriptions of property and beneficiaries short. This may leave you unsatisfied. You may have thought hard and long about why you want a particular person to get particular property — and now you feel frustrated that you are limited in your will to expressing your wishes in a few words. You can explain that in your Personal Wishes Letter.
The gift of my fishing equipment to my friend Harold is in remembrance of the many days we enjoyed fishing together on the lake. Harold, I hope you are out there enjoying your days for many years to come.
Johnny, the reason I gave you the cottage is that you love it as much as I do and I know you’ll do your best to make sure it stays in the family. But please, if the time comes when personal or family concerns mean that it makes sense to sell it, do so with our fun days on the lake in mind, knowing that it’s just what I would have done.
You may also wish to explain your reasons for leaving more property to one person than another. Although it is your choice to distribute property as you wish, you can also guess that in a number of family situations, unbalanced distribution could cause hurt feelings or hostility.
You could call those involved, and explain why you plan to leave your possessions as outlined in your will. However, you may wish to keep your plans private until after you die, or you may find a meeting too painful or not possible, which you can attach a copy of your Personal Wishes Letter to your will.
I love all my children equally. The reason I gave a smaller ownership share in the house to Tony than to my other children is that Tony received family funds to purchase his own home, so it is fair that my other three children receive more of my property now.
I am giving the bulk of my property to my son Jason for one reason: Because of his health problems, he needs it more.
Chloe and Kole, I love you just as much, and I am extremely proud of the life choices you have made. But the truth is that you two can are professional with excellent careers and are capable of managing fine without a boost from me, and Jason cannot.
Suggestions for Shared Gifts
If you are leaving a shared gift that contains a number of specific items — such as “my household furnishings” or “my art collection” — you may have some thoughts on how you’d like your beneficiaries to divide up the property. Of course, you can use your will to control the size of the share that each beneficiary gets, but that that still leaves your survivors to figure out who gets which specific assets. For example, if you leave your entire estate to be shared equally by your three children, how should your executor decide who gets the house, who gets the bank accounts and who gets the cars?
You can use a letter to make suggestions to your executor about how you want your property divided. Your suggestions will not have any legal weight; your executor is required to follow the terms of your will, not the terms of your letter. However, your letter can give your executor valuable guidance about how to distribute property, within the terms of your will.
Even if you don’t particularly care who gets which things, you may want to suggest a fair way of figuring it out, such as a lottery for the high valued or in demand items.
Whatever suggestions you give, be very careful not to contradict any of the gifts you make in your will.
I have left my library equally to my grandchildren. I know each of them has enjoyed many of the books over the years and I want to make sure that each receives a few favorites. I suggest that you hold a drawing to determine the order in which each grandchild will choose a book, with each then taking a volume in turn until their favorites are spoken for. The rest of the library can be distributed — taken or given away — in whatever manner they choose.
Expressing Positive or Negative Sentiments
Whatever your plans for leaving your property, you may wish to attach a letter to your will in which you clear your mind of some sentiments you formed during life. These may be positive — thanking a loved one for kind acts. Or they may be negative — explaining why you are leaving a person out of your will.
The reason I left $10,000 to my physician Dr. Becky is not only that she treated me competently over the years, but that she was unfailingly gentle and attentive. I always appreciated that she made herself available — day or night — and took the time to explain my ailments and treatments to me.
I am leaving nothing to my brother Marshall. I wish him no ill will. But over the years, he has decided to isolate himself from me and the rest of the family and I don’t feel I owe him anything.
Supporting Your Same-Sex Relationship
If you and your partner are married or in a registered domestic partnership and you’ve since moved to a state that doesn’t recognize your marriage or partnership, you may want to attach a signed letter to your will that expresses your wish that your partner be treated in all ways as your legal spouse or partner. This letter won’t change how your property is distributed by your will, but it will make your intention clear. The note is simply a way to avoid confusion by stating that you were legally married or partnered and you desire to be treated legally as a couple. It can be as brief as the sample below, or you can write more if you’d like to express your feelings about your relationship or its legal status.
Jennifer Johnson and I were legally married on March 12, 2017, in the state of Massachusetts. In 2019, we moved to Kansas, which does not currently recognize our marriage. No matter where we live, I consider Jennifer my legal spouse, and it is my wish that she be treated for all purposes, including inheritance, as my legal spouse.
Explaining Choices About Your Pet
The best way to provide a home for your pet is to use your will to name a caretaker for your pet and leave some money to that person to cover the costs of your pet’s care. If you like, you can use your explanatory letter to say why you chose a particular person to watch over your animals after your death.
I have left my dog Carish to my neighbor Brenda Manson because she has been a loving friend to him, taking care of him when I was on vacation. I know that Brenda three children will provide a caring and happy home for Carish when I no longer can.
Your wishes can change over time. It is easy to revisit your instructions every couple of years or when your circumstances change. You don’t have to follow any legal format. The letter can be handwritten in Chapter 29 of your Yup I’m Dead…Now What? Planner. Always sign and date each revision to eliminate confusion over which is your most current statement.
You’ll want to make several copies. Keep one with your will and another in a place your family would look first. Don’t keep the document a secret, and do not put it in your safe deposit box, where it might be difficult to reach.
Those who come after you will be thankful for your thoughtfulness and foresight in preparing the letter of instruction. You will ease the stress of your loved ones at a difficult time, make sure that nothing is “lost,” and give yourself peace of mind that your wishes are known.
Need a template? Here’s a few of our favorites: