When done right, estate planning can take some time since there are so many decisions to make. Choosing what to leave for particular heirs and beneficiaries, choosing an executor and/or trustee, and other issues often require some contemplation in order to make sure that your wishes are properly expressed so they can be followed when the time comes.
Once all your documents are created and executed, you may think you are done with the documentation part of your estate plan. You may need to handle other documents, depending on how you structured your estate plan, but nearly everyone could benefit from just one more — a “letter of instruction.”
What does a letter of instruction entail?
First, this letter has no legal impact on your estate, so it’s not legally binding on anyone. What this letter can do is make life easier for surviving friends and family, particularly your executor. Below are the types of things you may want to include in your letter:
- A list and location of all your assets, especially those that may not be readily accessible
- Contact information for people who assist you with your financial affairs, such as bankers, accountants, attorneys and others
- Account information, including usernames, account numbers, passwords, PIN numbers and the like
- The location of your birth certificate, marriage certificate, Social Security card and statements, most recent tax returns and all your other important documents
- Instructions regarding who should receive certain keepsakes, heirlooms and other sentimental possessions
- The locations of deeds and titles to your property
- Whom you would like to take care of your pets after you are gone
You could add any other information you’d like to your letter of instruction. For example, if you want to leave personal notes for loved ones, you can add their location to it. If you would prefer that people make donations instead of buying flowers for your funeral service, you can add that as well. Since this is not a legally binding document and no one but your executor and possibly your loved ones will see it, you can add whatever you like.
This letter and all the other aspects of your estate plan could most likely benefit from the experience of an attorney who can provide you with legal advice regarding your estate-planning documents and help you make sure you include all pertinent information in your letter.