By: Monica Gurgiolo, J.D., CPA
Senior Associate with Waltz, Palmer & Dawson

While letter-writing has largely gone by the wayside with the advent of email, texting and social media, one letter you may want to consider still writing is a so-called “Family Letter.”

What is a Family Letter?  It is a letter you write to your family, to be read by them after your death or disability.  But why write one?

If you have already executed, or are considering creating, a Will, a Trust, Powers of Attorney, or any other estate planning documents, you should think about the reactions of your family members to such documents after your death or disability.  In either circumstance, they will not be able to ask you why you did what you did, why you chose one of them over the others to handle your affairs or receive certain of your assets.

When you create an estate plan, you consider many factors, including taxes, family relationships, and the needs of your spouse, children, or any family members who are important to you.  You may have different relationships with each of your family members, and the relationships between each of them may not all be the same.  Each person may have different financial needs, resulting from their career choice, ability to responsibly manage their money, choice of spouse, or medical issues.

After careful thought and consideration, you will make your decisions as to who will be in charge of administering your estate or trust, making your health care and financial decisions if you cannot do so for yourself, and how your assets will be distributed following your death.  When counseling our estate planning clients, we encourage them to have discussions with their family about these issues and the decisions they are making, if such discussions would be appropriate in their particular situation.

For a variety of reasons, you may not be comfortable including your family in this process.  Or maybe you want to include only certain family members in these discussions, to the exclusion of others.  This is when a carefully thought-out Family Letter could serve you, and your family, well.

After you complete and execute all of your legally binding estate planning documents, you could write a letter to your family to explain your reasons for the provisions you included in those documents.  This letter may also include statements about your concerns, hopes and dreams for them, your religious beliefs, and any other wishes or requests you would like them to follow.  Keep in mind that this type of letter is not meant to be a legal document enforceable in a court of law, but rather something you leave to your family to answer some of their questions that they cannot ask you and to possibly guide them after you are gone.

If carefully written, this letter could prevent fights and hard feelings between your loved ones after you are gone, leaving them something much more valuable than the money and other assets you left to them.   We encourage our clients to be very careful in writing this type of letter so that it will answer questions and foster family harmony, and not cause or further hostility and litigation among their family members.  You should discuss the legal ramifications of such a letter, including certain statements that may be best left out of such a letter, with your estate planning attorney before writing one, in order to prevent unintended results and possible litigation.


ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content and material of this ad is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Content provided by Monica J. Gurgiolo