A letter of instruction can be a beneficial piece in estate planning. It is an informal document that will give your loved ones important information about personal and financial matters after your death. Letters of instruction are not legally binding and do not replace your need for a will or a living trust; they can, however, be a nice complement to those documents. The informal nature allows you to create the letter on your own and change it whenever necessary. It is important to keep the letter up to date, as life circumstances change over time. Let's look at some of the information that may be included in a letter of instruction.
Funeral and Burial Arrangements
The first thing you may want to include in your letter of intent is information about your funeral and burial arrangements. Be sure to include any plans you've already made, or what your wishes are, because clear guidance can be very beneficial to grieving family members. Information about the type of funeral service you'd like, including who should officiate the service and special things to be included like music selections, can be a part of your letter of instruction. If you prefer to be cremated rather than buried, be sure to include that, too.
Another helpful item would be a list of people you want to be contacted when you pass, and contact information if available.
Information about your bank accounts, assets you hold title to, and other accounts can greatly help family members when trying to carry out the provisions of your estate plan. Be sure to include names and phone numbers of professionals who can help locate your accounts or who helped you plan. The location of other important documents should also be included with the letter of intent. Important documents may include birth certificates, Social Security account information or statements, marriage license, divorce documents, and military paperwork. In addition, be sure to include information related to mortgages and other debts.
These days, many of our accounts have transitioned to the digital world. Therefore, leaving behind information about your digital assets in your letter of intent has become more important. This information should include usernames and passwords for digital accounts, social media accounts, and the devices themselves. It is important not to leave family members guessing on this information. Of course, all of this information should be kept secret, such as in a locked filing cabinet, but you should let one or two trusted individuals know where to look for it.
Personal items can be a source of contention among family members when a loved one dies. A letter of intent can provide details about who will receive personal effects, including collections, important personal items, and other things that may not have monetary value, but do have sentimental value. In this section, you can also include information about the care of the pets you may leave behind. (The wills that the attorneys in our firm prepare usually include a reference to such a "tangible personal property memo." This strategy allows our clients to make minor changes without having to contact us.) This section of your letter may include personal statements about your wishes and hopes for the future and can address specific family members.
A letter of intent can be a very real source of peace and comfort to your family members in their time of grief. It can be difficult to think about getting started on a letter of this nature, as none of us like to think about our own death. If you consider the items to include and create a plan, however, such a letter can often "write itself." Taking this step can alleviate much stress and many family squabbles about what you leave behind.
A letter of intent is an important piece of your overall estate plan and should be written with the help of an attorney to make sure the letter compliments and does not contradict your estate plan.
If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Winthrop office by calling us at (207) 377-6966.