Atlanta Financial Blog

Explanation Letters

Michelle Thompson, JD, CFP®, CTFA
February 26, 2019

Writing a will or trust is strictly for legal tasks, such as naming your executor/trustee, beneficiaries of your property, and guardian for your children. As you think about your estate plan, you may find that you also want to:

  • Explain why you are giving property to certain beneficiaries and not others
  • Explain disparities between bequests or gifts
  • Express positive sentiments about a beneficiary or negative sentiments about a disinherited heir
  • Leave instructions for your digital legacy
  • Leave statement about your personal experiences, value, or beliefs

Using an Explanatory Letter

Although these sentiments are encouraged, they should not be included within the text of your will or trust, because adding general information, personal statements, or reasons for making or not making a bequest risks the possibility of producing a document with conflicting, confusing, or potentially even illegal provisions.

If it is important that you have a final say about personal matters without seriously risking your will’s integrity, we suggest that you write a letter to accompany your will expressing your thoughts to those who survived you. Because what you say in the letter will not have legal effect as part of your will, there is little danger that your expressions will tread upon the legal language of the will or cause other problems in the future. In fact, if your will is ambiguous, a judge make look to your letter to shed light on your intentions and to help clarify the will.

However, it is extremely important that the statements in your letter do not contradict the provisions in your will. Any contradictions could create interpretations problems after your death, which may lead to lawsuits and family turmoil.

Keeping these precautions in mind, writing a letter to your friends and family, explaining why you wrote your will as you did – and knowing they will read your reasoning at your death – may give you a great deal of peace of mind during your life. It may also assisting in explaining potential slights and hurt feelings of surviving friends and family members.

What to Include in Your Letter

What to include in your letter is completely up to you. It can be long or short, funny or intense, verbose or succinct. Below are some ideas of you might want to include:

  • An explanation as to why certain gifts were made to particular beneficiaries. You may also want to explain why a particular piece of personal property was gifted to that particular beneficiary.
  • Positive or negative sentiments. This is your time to “have the last word.”
  • An explanation about disparities in gifts, including why you left more to one person and less to another.
  • A statement in support or in opposition of a controversial issue.

Here at Atlanta Financial, we are dedicated to making life’s journey richer for you and your family.  Call me at 678-282-0296 for a complimentary consultation as part of our Second Opinion service.

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