The Missing Link


So, you set up your living will, your inter-vivos trust and your pour-over will.  You have your health care directives and durable powers of attorney ready to go.  You’re all set, right?  Legally speaking, you may have a complete estate plan.  However, there’s a missing piece to this estate plan that most people do not consider.  The letter of instruction.

A letter of instruction is not a legal document.  It is merely an aid for your family and loved ones that provides some guidance after your death.  It can answer questions that your estate plan doesn’t.  The letter can include passwords for a computer or online financial accounts.  The idea of the letter is to save your loved ones stress and confusion at a time when they will probably already be overwhelmed.

The letter can also include funeral details.  Here, one has to be careful.  Since the letter of instruction is not a legally binding document, it may not hold up if there are disputes over certain issues.

The letter should include:

-The location of all estate planning documents, such as wills and trust agreements

-A list of relevant advisors with contact information

-List of other people to contact on your death

-Location of any safe deposit boxes, inventory list, location of keys, who is authorized to open them

-List of life insurance policies, location and beneficiaries

-List of bank accounts and how they are titled

-Investment and trust account information

-A description of other assets

-Any debts or other liabilities

-Listing of all credit card accounts

-Inventory of other important documents like deeds and titles, and where they are held

-Location of keys to all residences

-Description of any pension benefits and who to contact

-Instructions concerning funeral or memorial services

The letter of instruction can take some of the hassle out of the time period just after a loved ones’ death.  Just remember to put the letter somewhere that is easily accessible!