Death Chats: leaving a death letter isn’t brave

Using your will to name, shame or punish people who haven't lived up to your expectations during your lifetime is cruel, heartless, and more often than not punishes the people you're trying to reward as much as those you're trying to write out. Even if you write a letter explaining why.


There aren't many people who manage to slide through life without receiving at least one Dear John letter (if your name is actually John chances are you've received more Dear John letters than the average Joe).

Dear John. It's not you it's me. I've met someone else. Daphne.

Dear John. I know we've been friends since we were six but I think we're very different people now. Peter.

Dear John. Don't come Monday. Head Office.

The thing about Dear John letters is they blindside you with information that you may not have seen coming. They jump up and bite you on the bum - even if it was pretty clear things weren't working out.

When you receive a Dear John letter from someone who is alive, it might not be your MO to turn up on their doorstep, but you still have a right of reply. You can pitch your case. Defend your actions.

Recieving a Dear John letter from someone after they're dead provides none of those opportunities. The writer will always have the last word and unfortunately the last word in a death letter is rarely ever in the favour of the recipient.

Dear John. If you're reading this I'm dead. Mum.

Back in the day, when I worked as a power suit-wearing, instruction-taking lawyer it wasn't unusual for me to write a will that existed for no other reason than to punish someone after death.

What usually accompanied these wills was a Death Letter. The kind of letter that makes your average Dear John look like a mere social media status update.

Letters like that take a lot of emotional effort to write, but they're not brave. They're cruel AF.

They offer one person the opportunity to justify why they've left a child, spouse or sibling out of their will. Outlining every ill and every wrongdoing from one side of the experience - the dead persons.

Death Letters are the last word, sitting inside the lawyer's safe, waiting to do damage from the grave.

"Having the last say from the grave is gutless and cruel."

Death Letters leave people angry and sad with more questions than answers.

And there's nothing lawyers LOVE more than sad and angry should-have-been beneficiaries because the only resolution or recourse open to them is to make a claim against the dead person's estate.

When you attempt to rule (or punish) from the grave you're no longer there to stand up for yourself. You can no longer defend your decisions. You can't explain how or why that person hurt you. And you can't change your mind.

Because you can't do it for yourself - lawyers will do that on your behalf.

When you attempt to punish from the grave evidence will be gathered against you (including your very own Death Letter) and the people you are attempting to reward in your will inadvertently end up as collateral damage in a potentially long, drawn-out, expensive and emotionally fraught legal battle.

There are no winners.

There are no winners

Grievances spelt out and justified in a Death Letter have only one purpose - to BLAME and SHAME the person you're punishing into not making a claim against your estate.

Wrongs can almost always be resolved during a lifetime.

Grudges taken to the grave can usually be let go of before it's too late.

Having the last say from the grave is gutless and cruel.

The way to have the last word is to do it BEFORE you're dead.

If you can't speak up on your own, get help to do so. Death Chats are significantly more rewarding than Death Letters.

If you can't speak directly to the person who hurt you then speak about it with a friend, coach, psychologist or some random at the bus stop - whatever you need to do to feel heard and healed.

If you want to write a letter then don't leave it in a safe in the lawyer's office. Write it, put it in an envelope and send it with full knowledge that like any Dear John letter, the recipient is likely to want to ask questions and seek answers. And that's ok.

Death chats are significantly more rewarding than death letters

I'm not oblivious to the fact that families come in all varieties and not giving access to your estate is sometimes the best course of action.

Rather than writing a letter to shame and blame let's work together to devise other ways to plan your estate so that it's not worth arguing over.

Click the button below to book a time to review your will with a proper estate plan. Or if you think you'll be the recipient of a death letter, let's catch up and chat about what that might look like for you.

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