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Using Letters of Wishes to Guide your Guardians

In Ontario, a standard guardianship clause in a will where there are minor children typically appoints one or more guardians, may include alternate ones, and will usually refer to the need to obtain a permanent appointment by the court pursuant to the Children’s Law Reform Act[1] (please refer to my previous blog in this regard). As important as the appointment of guardians may be, it provides no guidance to the appointed guardians for the minor children’s care and upbringing. In order to address this, parents should consider a “letter of wishes” to the guardians of their children.

A letter of wishes is a formal but non-binding document that provides guidance to the appointed guardians regarding their role, and can include the parents’ wishes, values, and guiding principles to be considered by the guardians. It is a helpful and effective way to communicate parents’ intentions for how they wish their minor children to be raised.

A letter of wishes may address a variety of topics and include guidelines, such as:

  • the reasons the parents named the guardians;
  • family and personal values and personal goals;
  • dating and marriage considerations, including, where appropriate, the need for a marriage contract;
  • an education plan, including which schools parents would wish their children to attend, funding for postsecondary education, and the value that should be placed on education;
  • religion, including attendance of services and coming of age ceremonies;
  • extracurricular activities they would encourage their children to be involved in;
  • determining career goals and paths and important considerations in making these choices;
  • finances, including encouraging financial literacy, the “value of money”, standard of living, and lifestyle preferences;
  • travel considerations; and
  • family relationships, including wishes for family get-togethers and the importance of family.

The above considerations are not an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point for parents to consider when preparing a letter of wishes and parents may be as detailed as they wish.

Although not legally binding, there are several benefits to providing guidance on these issues outside of the will, including:

  • flexibility in changing the letter of wishes without needing to revise the will; and
  • privacy, as it does not become a public document if the will is probated.

It is important to alert the guardians to the existence of a letter of wishes by referencing it in the will so they know to look for it. The letter of wishes should be stored with the will to ensure it is not lost or misplaced and that the guardians will be made aware of it when the estate planning documents are reviewed by the executors.

Parents should regularly review their letter of wishes every few years to confirm it still accurately reflects their intentions for their minor children. A letter of wishes can be an invaluable guide for guardians and can also provide parents with the peace of mind that they have provided some additional structure on the critical issue of raising their children.

[1] R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12.

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.