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Is it ever too late to send a thank you note?

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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 sending it immediately. But then you procrastinate. Or you’re really busy and it gets away from you. Now a strangely long amount of time has passed. It’s been months, maybe even a year or more.

What do you do: ditch the thankfulness, move on, and pray that this person hasn’t thought of you as some kind of ungrateful? Or do you go beyond the discomfort or shame and send a rather late note anyway? We asked etiquette experts how best to handle the situation.

Rule of thumb: the sooner the better

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

Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas, says it’s best to send your thank you 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 within 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 busier you’ll likely be with other life obligations,” she told HuffPost. “It’s best to tackle thank you notes while the event is fresh in your memory.”

For wedding gifts, you may have heard that you have up to a year to send thank you notes, but etiquette experts generally agree that has become an outdated rule. Nowadays, a more appropriate period is one to three months after the celebration or receipt of the gift.

Any gifts you received before the wedding can be opened ahead of time and thank-you notes can be written and sent ahead of your big day, Smith said.

“It lets the guest know the gift has arrived and it eases the load on the couple after the wedding,” she added. (And FYI: If a wedding guest doesn’t give a gift, you should write them a note thanking them for coming!)

The two notable exceptions where the time it takes to send a thank you can naturally be longer are bereavement and baby gifts.

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

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

Parents “shouldn’t be in the position where they feel like they have to — on top of adjusting to everything with the new baby — now they have to sit down and make those cards within a specific timeframe,” Swann said. “When you can do it, that’s when you can do it.”

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

Yes, it’s best to post those thank you notes as soon as you reasonably can. But sometimes life gets involved. Even if months—or years! — have passed, it’s still worth sending one, our etiquette experts say.

“It’s never too late to send a thank you note,” Gottsman said. “If you’ve forgotten, or just haven’t, whether it’s been months or years, just apologize for the late response and then thank them for the generosity.”

“You’ve probably met them many times before and feel bad every time you see them,” she added. “It’s better to send them a thank you note than to worry about it for the rest of your friendship.”

Smith said it’s only “too late” to send one if the person is deceased. If the thank you is late, acknowledge the lateness, but there’s no need to over-explain yourself and spout a bunch of excuses. And be sure to thank the giver for their kindness and generosity, while also mentioning how special the gift is to you and how much you appreciate your relationship, she said.

Here is an example of a post written by Smith that you can use as a guide:

Dear Great Aunt Tilly,

This thank you note is long overdue. I apologize for being late. The baby blanket you knit for Suzy is simply spectacular. The love and care you put into it is evident in every stitch. As you’ll see in the attached photo, we wrapped her in it for her very first baby photos. You have always taken care to remember me for all stages of my life and this handmade blanket will surely be a heirloom in our family. We will be returning home for the holidays and we can’t wait to introduce you to Suzy.

Lots of love, humbly,

taylor

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

Maybe you said thank you and gave your aunt a big hug when she delivered the gift to you in person. Or maybe you texted your friend to say thank you when the package first arrived at your doorstep. Letting the donor know the item has arrived safely to you is thoughtful — but it’s not enough, Smith said.

“An electronic thank you indicates that you care enough to do the minimum,” 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 an inexpensive, high-impact way to show your appreciation and gratitude,” she added.