Writing a Letter of Instruction
A will is an essential legal document that describes how your estate should be distributed upon your death. It is the basis for the probate process and can serve as a guide for your heirs.
A letter of instruction has no formal legal status, but it could be just as important to help your loved ones settle your estate and move forward with their lives. Unlike a will, which must follow legal guidelines for your state and may require an attorney, a letter of instruction can be written yourself in any way you choose. Here are some topics you may want to address.
- A list of financial accounts and account numbers. You might include online user names and passwords, but if you feel uncomfortable about having these written down or expect to change them often, the executor of your estate should be able to access accounts with the account numbers and your Social Security number.
- A list of documents and their locations, including (but not limited to) your will, financial accounts, insurance policies, tax returns, real estate deeds and mortgage documents, vehicle titles, Social Security and Medicare cards, marriage and/or divorce papers, and birth certificate.
- Contact information for professionals who handle your financial and legal affairs, such as your attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, and accountant. Also include others who may be helpful, such as a business partner or a trusted friend.
- A list of bills and creditors, including when bills and payments are due.
- Your final wishes for burial or cremation, a funeral or memorial service, organ donation, and charitable contributions in your memory.
Keep your letter of instruction in a safe, yet accessible place and tell your loved ones where it can be found. It might be wise to give the letter to the executor of your estate and other trusted friends or advisors.
Be sure to review the letter regularly and update it as appropriate. Your heirs will thank you for your foresight.