Leaving a legacy: Guiding documents that speak your wishes

Over above your Last Will and Testament, there are a number of other useful legacy documents which, if correctly drafted, can provide enormous assistance to your spouse, partner or loved ones in the event of tragedy.

Advance Healthcare Directive

An Advance Healthcare Directive is similar to a Living Will but goes into further detail in providing your loved ones with guidance regarding end-of-life medical treatment. The document can also be used to appoint a medical proxy who will effectively be your spokesperson if you are in a medical condition where you cannot speak for yourself. Essentially, an Advance Healthcare Directive documents your wish to be allowed to pass on naturally and with dignity if there is no hope of your recovery or where death is inevitable. While the legal enforceability of an Advance Healthcare Directive cannot be guaranteed, the document is intended to provide your family and medical practitioners with guidelines for end-of-life treatment and care. The written directive can provide important detail as to how and where you wish to be treated, what interventions you permit or refuse, and how you would like your pain to be managed. It can also document your wishes in respect of artificial life support, organ and tissue donation, intubation, IV hydration, CPR, blood transfusion and palliative care.

End-of-life wishes

This is a document which is often used by those suffering from terminal illnesses and is designed to give guidance to your loved ones on important, but not-often-talked-about-subjects, such as funerals, burial, cremation and death notifications. Your end-of-life wishes can include important information such as the location of your will, your funeral policy number and preferred funeral home. It can also be used to record specific requests that you may have in respect of religious rites that you would like followed, guidance on the funeral or memorial service ceremony, details on flowers, hymns and readings that you would like included in the ceremony, pallbearers and any other special messages. In this document, you can also indicate how and where you would like your death notification placed, and who should be contacted immediately after your passing. Bear in mind that this is not a legal document, but merely a personal guide to your spouse and loved ones who might not be in a position to make decisions in the event of your passing.

Letter of wishes

A Letter of Wishes is a personal letter used to inform others of matters that you would like taken into account after your death. For example, you may want to provide guidance on the spiritual or religious education of your minor children or give more detailed information to help your executors identify specific items you are giving away in your Will. If you intend writing a Letter of Wishes, bear in mind that it is not a legally binding document but can provide invaluable guidance to your executor and trustees to ensure that your personal wishes are carried out. When drafting your letter, ensure that it is written in plain language, signed and dated, but not witnessed. Witnessing the letter may create confusion as to whether it is a legal Will or codicil to your Will. Take care to ensure your letter does not contain anything that could conflict with your Will or create confusion. Where you have set up a testamentary trust in your Will, your letter of wishes can be used by the trustees as a guide, but it is not legally binding the trustees. The purpose of the letter is to guide the trustees and not to dictate to them, so be careful with the wording of your letter.

Digital will

We often tend to underestimate the full extent to which our lives have become digitised and how dependent we are on the worldwide web. Our dependency on the internet has been made more conspicuous by the lockdown with everything from socialising, shopping and exercising being internet dependent. Although not a legal document, a ‘digital will’ is an excellent way of collating the details of your online life and appointing a ‘digital executor’ to wind-up your online existence in the event of your death. Be sure to appoint someone who is tech-savvy and who you trust to follow your instructions. Bear in mind that your ‘digital executor’ will have full access to your banking records, trading accounts, social media accounts, emails and personal online conversations, so be sure that you appoint someone that you trust to do the right thing. When drafting your ‘digital will’ be sure to list all your devices, including Smart TVs, smart phones, hard drives, laptops and PCs, together with login credentials for each device. Include a list of all your social media accounts, linked emails, profile names and passwords, with instructions on how you would like each account handled. Similarly, list your online shopping sites and login credentials so that these can be closed. You will also want your ‘digital executor’ to cancel any monthly online subscriptions so that your bank accounts are no longer debited. Be sure to list any share trading accounts, charities that you support, online newspapers and chat rooms.

Ethical will

An Ethical Will originated amongst ancient Hebrew people who documented ethical values to be passed from one generation to the next. Rabbis and Jewish laypeople continued to write Ethical Wills in recent centuries to communicate values, experiences and life lessons to the next generation. An Ethical Will is purely voluntary and is designed to pass on things such as guiding principles, spiritual or religious values, important memories or wishes for your family’s future. Ethical Wills can also be a tool for distributing personal property and items that have little financial value but significant sentimental value such as photo albums, books, items of clothing, medals or old letters.

We have templates for all of the above legacy documents, so please email us at [email protected] and we will gladly assist you.

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