Is It Ever Too Late To Send A Thank-You Note?

While there's an ideal time frame to send a thank-you card, etiquette experts explain how to make a belated one work.
Here's what to do if you weren't able to send out those thank-yous as quickly as you would have liked.
Kohei Hara via Getty Images
Here's what to do if you weren't able to send out those thank-yous as quickly as you would have liked.

A friend or relative sends you a thoughtful gift for your birthday, graduation, wedding, promotion or the arrival of a baby. You have every intention of writing a heartfelt thank-you note and mailing it out straight away. But then you procrastinate. Or you get really busy and it slips your mind. Now an awkwardly long amount of time has passed. It’s been months, maybe even a year or more.

What do you do: Do you scrap the thank-you, move on and pray this person hasn’t written you off as some kind of ingrate? Or do you move past the discomfort or shame and send a rather belated note anyway? We asked etiquette experts how best to handle the situation.

The Rule Of Thumb: The Sooner, The Better

When it comes to sending out thank-you notes, all of our etiquette experts agreed: the sooner, the better.

Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas, says it’s best to mail your thank-yous within a day or two, but acknowledged that sometimes that’s not a reasonable time frame.

“You should at least start working on thank-you notes in the same week of the event and get them out within that week,” she told HuffPost.

According to etiquette expert Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, thank-you notes should be completed within two weeks of the event.

“Let’s face it, the longer it takes after the event, the likelier you will become busy with life’s other obligations,” she told HuffPost. “It is best to tackle thank-you notes while the event is fresh in your memory.”

For wedding gifts, you may have heard in the past that you have up to a year to send thank-you notes, but etiquette experts generally agree that’s become an outdated rule. These days, a more appropriate time frame is within one to three months of the celebration or receipt of the gift.

Any gift you received prior to the wedding can be opened in advance and thank-you notes can be written and sent before your big day, Smith said.

“This allows the guest to know the gift arrived and it lightens the load of the couple after the wedding,” she added. (And FYI: If a wedding guest doesn’t give a gift, you should write them a note to thank them for attending!)

The two notable exceptions in which the timeline for sending a thank-you might be understandably longer are bereavement and baby gifts.

“When it comes to bereavement thank-you cards, I always say there is no time frame,” etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, told HuffPost. “Really and truly. That depends on the person sending the card and where they are in the grieving process.”

While baby shower thank-yous should be sent out anywhere from a few days to a week after the event (“Just so they’re done and out of the way and you can continue enjoying the rest of your pregnancy,” Swann said), you have more leeway with thank-you notes for gifts that arrive after the baby is born.

Parents “should not be in the position to where they feel like they have to — aside from adjusting to everything with the new baby — now they have to sit down and do these cards within a specific amount of time,” Swann said. “When you can get to it is when you can get to it.”

But if you missed the window, don’t fret. Better late than never!

Yes, it’s best to get those thank-you notes out as soon as you reasonably can. But sometimes life gets in the way. Even if months — or years! — have passed, it’s definitely still worth sending one, our etiquette experts said.

“It is never too late to send a thank-you note,” Gottsman said. “If you have forgotten, or simply not done it, whether it is for months or years, simply apologize for the tardy response and then thank them for the generosity.”

“You have probably already run into them multiple times and feel badly every time you see them,” she added. “It’s best to send them a note of thanks than worry about it for the rest of your friendship.”

Smith said it’s only “too late” to send one if the person has passed away. If the thank-you is belated, acknowledge the delay, but there’s no need to overexplain yourself and rattle off a bunch of excuses. And be sure to thank the giver for their thoughtfulness and generosity, while also mentioning how special the gift is to you and that you value your relationship, she said.

Here’s a sample message Smith drafted that you can use as a guide:

Dear Great Aunt Tilly,

This thank-you note is long overdue. I apologize for my tardiness. The baby blanket you knit for Suzy is simply spectacular. The love and care you put into it is readily apparent in every stitch. As you will see in the enclosed photo, we wrapped her in it for her very first baby pictures. You have always taken such care to remember me for all of my life’s milestones and this handmade blanket will surely be an heirloom in our family. We will be traveling home for the holidays and so look forward to introducing you to Suzy.

Much love, humbly,

Taylor

Even if you thanked the person IRL or via text or email, a handwritten note is still appropriate.

Perhaps you said thank you and gave your aunt a big hug when she handed you the present in person. Or maybe you texted your friend to say thanks when the package first arrived at your doorstep. Letting the giver know the item has safely made its way to you is thoughtful — but it’s not sufficient, Smith said.

“An electronic thank-you says you cared enough to do the very least,” she said “If someone took the time to give you a gift, you should take the extra five minutes to write a thank-you note.”

“Thank-you notes are a low-cost, high-impact way to show your appreciation and gratitude,” she added.

Before You Go

Heel protectors that'll prevent you from sinking into the grass

33 Products You’ll Be Happy To Have On Hand For Your Wedding Day

MORE IN LIFE