Unlocking The Power Of Letters Of Wishes In Your Estate Plan

McLane Middleton, Professional Association


Founded in 1919, McLane Middleton, Professional Association has been committed to serving their clients, community and colleagues for over 100 years.  They are one of New England’s premier full-service law firms with offices in Woburn and Boston, Massachusetts and Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 
Estate planning is not just about legal documents and financial assets; it's also about leaving behind your wishes, values, and guidance for your loved ones. While wills and trusts form the backbone of an estate plan...
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Estate planning is not just about legal documents and financial assets; it's also about leaving behind your wishes, values, and guidance for your loved ones. While wills and trusts form the backbone of an estate plan, there's a lesser-known but equally important tool that can significantly impact how your estate is managed: a Letter of Wishes.

What Is a Letter of Wishes?

A Letter of Wishes, sometimes called a Letter of Instruction or Memorandum of Wishes, is a non-binding document that accompanies your will or trust. They are personal and confidential letters that provide guidance to your executors, trustees, and beneficiaries regarding your preferences, desires, and intentions related to your estate and trusts. In 2019, the New Hampshire Trust Code was modified to specifically incorporate and permit the formal use of such letters as an integral part of confirming the intent and purpose behind the creation of the trust.

Why Are Letters of Wishes Important?

  1. Flexibility and Guidance: Unlike a will or trust, which are legal documents subject to public scrutiny and legal requirements, a Letter of Wishes offers flexibility and personalization. It allows you to express your wishes in a more informal and detailed manner, covering aspects that may not be suitable or necessary for inclusion in formal legal documents.
  2. Clarity and Explanation: A Letter of Wishes provides an opportunity to explain the reasoning behind certain decisions in your estate plan. For example, you can clarify why you chose specific beneficiaries or distribution percentages, provide insights into family dynamics, or express preferences for the management of sentimental or non-monetary assets.
  3. Sensitive Issues: Estate planning often involves sensitive or emotional considerations. A Letter of Wishes allows you to address delicate matters with care and discretion. You can discuss family relationships, express hopes for the future, or provide guidance on handling specific assets that hold sentimental value.
  4. Updating and Flexibility: One of the key benefits of a Letter of Wishes is its flexibility to be updated or revised without formal legal processes. You can adapt your letter over time as circumstances change, new family members are born, or relationships evolve. This dynamic nature ensures that your wishes remain relevant and reflective of your current intentions.
  5. Privacy: Unlike wills or trusts, Letters of Wishes are typically not filed with the court or disclosed to the public. This privacy allows you to communicate personal sentiments and instructions confidentially, preserving family privacy and minimizing potential disputes.

What to Include in a Letter of Wishes:

  • Personal Messages: Express your love, gratitude, and hopes for your loved ones.
  • Asset Distribution Guidance: Provide insights into how you wish specific assets to be distributed or managed.
  • Family Dynamics: Address any family relationships, concerns, or special considerations.
  • Education and Values: Share your values, beliefs, and expectations regarding education, charitable giving, or lifestyle choices.
  • Funeral and Memorial Wishes: Mention any preferences for funeral arrangements, burial or cremation, and memorial services.


In the intricate tapestry of estate planning, the Letter of Wishes serves as a thread of personal connection and guidance. It is a powerful tool that allows you to impart wisdom, preserve family harmony, and ensure that your wishes are understood and respected by those entrusted with carrying out your estate plan. Incorporating a Letter of Wishes alongside your formal legal documents adds depth and humanity to your estate plan, transforming it from a mere set of instructions into a meaningful legacy of values and intentions.

Originally published by Seacoast Online.

Patrick O. Collins is a Director in the firm's Trusts and Estates Department.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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