In light of the recent publications concerning Ken Talbot’s Will and some of the comments he placed in a letter accompanying his Will, it has triggered me to address the purpose of a letter of wishes in an estate plan.
Ken Talbot died in 2010 in an airplane accident in the Congo, leaving an estate of around $1.1 billion.
The Daily Mail reported that Mr Talbot wrote a two page letter that accompanied his Will, which includes comments to his children such as:
“I consider that the worst thing I could do is give any beneficiary for example a $1m payout at age 21”.
“As a consequence, beneficiaries will be kept on the drip feed until maturity”.
In the letter, Mr Talbot also warned his children that they will have ‘many new friends of a temporary nature’ as a result of their endowment and insisted they pass a diploma course for company directors in Australia before accessing the funds.
Your Will is likely to become a public document
When preparing a Will, it is important to remember that upon passing, the Will becomes a public document that is filed with the Court.
Once a document has been filed with the Court, it is on the record and copies can be accessed by completing an application and paying a fee.
Accordingly, it is best to avoid any personal comments or statements in your Will and keep its contents strictly to the legal matters.
As a general rule, a Will should address such things as:
- the appointment of an executor, a reserve executor and/or a guardian for your minor children;
- any specific gifts that the executor must make from your estate;
- the establishment of any trusts for your beneficiaries;
- the manner in which your estate is to be distributed; and
- the age your beneficiaries must be in order to receive their inheritance.
Avoid commentary in your Will; prepare a letter of wishes
I am regularly asked by clients whether they can place comments in their Wills in relation to the distributions being made or their reasons why they are distributing their estate in the manner they have.
My view is that a Will should rarely contain any comments or statements as to why the testator is distributing their estate as they have in the Will.
Rather, I prefer to encourage clients to prepare a personal letter or a letter of wishes which gives them an opportunity to address all the intimate matters that should be avoided in the Will.
What can you include in a letter of wishes?
You can include anything you desire in a letter of wishes. Some of the suggestions which I make to clients include:
- where you’d like your children to go to school;
- whether you’d like your children to remain in the family home (although it is crucial to seek advice in relation to your estate and whether it is possible to retain the family home);
- when you would like your executor to make distributions to your children, for example, you may say, you’d like your trustee to purchase a vehicle for their 18th birthday or you’d like them to distribute an amount of funds to supplement a deposit for a home if your child expresses an interest in purchasing property;
- whether you’d like your children to participate in any particular extracurricular activities.
If your estate is substantial, you may wish to draft an additional personal letter to your beneficiaries explaining your reasons why you have nominated a mature vesting age, like Mr Talbot did.
There is no one size fits all estate plan, it is always individual to each client. In some cases, no letter of wishes is necessary, but in others, that direct communication to a beneficiary explaining your reasons for distributing your estate in the manner you have may be pivotal in mitigating a potential claim.
If you have any questions in relation to your estate planning, or if you would like to discuss tailoring your estate plan to your circumstances and including a letter of wishes, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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