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Ask the Thank You Diva:
How to word a thank you note when returning gifts of money received following a bereavement

Trina asks the Thank You Diva about how to word thank you notes when returning money - enclosed in sympathy cards - that she and her family consider excessive and wish to return.


Dear Thank You Diva,

My father in law recently passed away. Some people sent sympathy cards with too much money in to accept comfortably.

How do we return this money and write a dignified note to explain their over-generosity?

Thank you for your help,

The Thank You Diva responds:

Dear Trina,

Thank you for your note and I am sorry to hear of your loss.

This is no doubt a difficult and emotional time for all concerned, so - as you no doubt realize - it is especially important to tread carefully and consider everyone's feelings in your response.

You don't say whether the money is intended as gifts for you and your family (perhaps to assist with funeral costs or help you through a difficult financial period?) or as charitable donations in you father-in-law's memory. However, as the sums involved make you uncomfortable, I assume the former.

If you are quite sure that you are unable to accept the money, then I think the best way to return it is with the gracious suggestion that the giver donate it (or a portion of it) in your father-in-law's name to a charity, non-profit or project that was close to your father-in-law's heart. If nothing comes immediately to mind, then perhaps something associated with his profession or interests, or a medical charity?

I feel that by suggesting this you will somewhat deflect the fact that you are returning the money (and therefore any possible offence or distress) and put the emphasis back on to your father-in-law and his passing. It will of course be entirely up to the recipient whether they choose to follow your suggestion.

You may wish to word your note along these lines:

Dear Bob and Helen,

Thank you for your sympathy card and wonderful support in this sad and difficult time. You are both such a comfort to us, and hearing your memories of [father-in-law] in his younger days has been very special to us all.

We are quite overwhelmed, and deeply, deeply touched, by your enormous generosity in enclosing such a large sum with your card. We truly appreciate your love and support - thank you so very much. Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that you'll understand when we say that we find ourselves unable to accept your generosity in full. It is simply too much!

If we may make a suggestion? Perhaps you would consider donating a portion of the money that we are returning in [father-in-law's] memory. As you know, he was a lifelong supporter of [specific charity or project] and he would be delighted to know that his family and friends continue to support this project that was so close to his heart.

Thank you again for your thoughts, prayers, help and love at this time. We are so very blessed to have you in our lives.

With our fondest wishes,
Trina, Jim and the family

Of course, you will want to edit and adapt this letter to fit your precise circumstances, however I hope that it can serve as a suitable template for you to express your thanks and indicate - in a dignified and caring way - that you are unable to accept the gifts.

With my best wishes,
The Thank You Diva

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