A last wishes letter can be extremely useful if there is the potential your surviving next of kin may want to make final arrangements for you that are different than those outlined in your memorial preferences. Nevertheless, not everyone needs to write a last wishes letter. For example, if you are not concerned about whether your funeral, burial, cremation or related arrangements will be carried out according to the instructions you leave your survivors in a last wishes planner or similar type of document, you may decide there is no need to write this type of letter.
If the instructions you outlined for your final arrangements are such that your family is likely to agree with them and will not have a problem following them, it may be sufficient to use a last wishes planner such as our free
Last Wishes Form. However, if any aspect of your memorial preferences may be surprising to your survivors, is contrary to their beliefs, or may be a burden on them to honor, consider writing a letter to them and attaching it to your last wishes planner or funeral planning documents. The letter you leave for your spouse, children, parents or friends may persuade them to fulfill your last wishes when they otherwise would not.
For information on how to make arrangements for your funeral, see our free Funeral Planning Guide. To learn about other types of letters that may be written to those responsible for handling your affairs, see Estate Plan Letters.
Estate Plan Letters
Estate plan letters, including a last wishes letter, can be a great source of comfort to those you leave behind. Once you are gone, they will never have the chance to ask your opinions and preferences on any matter, including important issues such as how you want to be remembered or what type of service you want. For this reason, it is generally recommended that you complete several different types of estate plan letters when putting your affairs in order.
One of the most essential types of estate plan letters is called a letter of instruction. It is intended to be a comprehensive letter that addresses your overall estate plan, rather than the issue of funeral planning. To learn more about how to include this type of letter in your estate plan, go to
Letter of Instruction.
How to Write a Last Wishes Letter
A last wishes letter should contain the thoughts or feelings you want to convey to the individuals responsible for making your final arrangements. Unlike a will, trust, power of attorney or living will, a last wishes letter is not intended to have any legal effect upon your estate or your property. Instead, a last wishes letter is intended to communicate a personal message to your surviving spouse, children or other relatives about honoring your last wishes.If you are writing a last wishes letter because you anticipate disagreement with the details you outlined for your final arrangements, you may want to begin your letter by affirming your respect for the opinions of those individuals responsible for arranging your funeral, burial, cremation, and related services. You can explain that you appreciate why they may be uncomfortable with some of aspect of your memorial preferences. Next, you may want to state that while you understand they have valid feelings or opinions on the disposition of your remains, these are your decisions to make and you gave them careful consideration prior to finalizing your last wishes. You may also mention that they would want their own last wishes to be respected and you hope they will do the same for you.The next part of your letter may be used to offer an explanation for some of the choices you made in your last wishes planner. For example, if you chose a burial plot that is different than the location desired by your heirs, you may want to discuss your reasons. If you were raised in the Catholic faith but do not want to have a traditional Catholic service at your funeral, you may want to discuss why this is important to you.
If the types of services you requested will be an added expense or may constitute a financial burden on your family, it is a good idea to provide information about any provisions you made for such expenses in your estate plan, such as buying life insurance, prepaying for funeral expenses, or leaving adequate estate property to cover your funeral and burial expenses. If your agent or executor will need specific documents or paperwork to carry out your last wishes, you may want to include information about where these items are located.
If there are additional details you would like to add about your memorial preferences that are not listed in your last wishes planner or funeral preferences forms, include those details in your letter. For example, if you would like one of your children to read a favorite poem or scripture at your funeral service, but did not list that in your memorial preferences, you can mention this in your last wishes letter.The last paragraph of your letter should reiterate your request that your last wishes be honored. You may also want to add a few statements of affection for your loved ones in the closing paragraph. Your letter may be stored with your last wishes planner or funeral preferences forms. If you have questions about where to store the paperwork for your final arrangements, consult your estate planning attorney.
Please note, the last wishes letter referred to in this article is not intended to serve as a list of your memorial preferences or funeral preferences. The type of letter discussed in this article is intended to be written to a personís surviving next of kin, executor or agent explaining the reasons for requesting certain final arrangements and asking that the instructions set forth in a separate last wishes planner be followed, despite any disagreement by such personís survivors. For more information on how this type of estate plan letter is typically used, see last wishes letter.
How Much Will Your Last Wishes Cost?
If you have completed a last wishes planner and written a last wishes letter explaining your final arrangements, you have successfully completed one of the most important steps in making an estate plan. The next issue to consider is whether there will be funds available in your estate to follow your last wishes. This often requires
life insurance.Unfortunately, I have seen more than a few funeral bills and I have watched families struggle to purchase burial plots and headstones. If you have a figure in mind about what your funeral, burial or cremation will cost, you may be surprised to learn the actual cost is much higher than you expected. It seems little expenses are added here and there on the funeral invoice until the price for a basic funeral or memorial is thousands more than you originally planned.If you have not planned for funeral and burial expenses as part of writing your last wishes, go to
can I afford a funeral for information on what it costs for various elements of final arrangements.