If you've got your basic end-of-life documents prepared, such as a will and power-of-attorney, you still have one more document that you need to get ready: a letter of instruction. Less formal than a will or other documents, a letter of instruction can save your heirs a great deal of stress (or more) after you're gone and give you peace of mind before.
What does a letter of instruction include?
A letter of instruction isn't a legally binding document, which makes it easy to update as needed. It's designed to cover the details that aren't necessarily included in formal end-of-life documents. It should include a few specifics, at minimum:
- Who should be contacted in the event of your death? What is their contact information?
- What online social media accounts do you have? What are their passwords?
- Are their bank accounts that should be closed out immediately?
- What credit cards or other financial accounts do you have?
- Do you have a safety deposit box? Where is the key?
- Do you have any storage units? Where are they located?
- What insurance policies do you have? Who is your agent?
- Which funeral home do you wish to use?
- What clothing do you want buried in?
- Are there any specifics that you want for your funeral or memorial service?
Included with your letter of instruction should be an inventory of all the important documents that your heirs need to locate, along with information about their location. Keep in mind that you may want to keep things like insurance policies, deeds, and birth certificates in a safety deposit box, but the letter of instruction needs to be in an easily accessible place. Let your heirs know exactly where to find it and don't keep it locked away unless somebody has your spare key. That way your heirs will know to look for the letter before they get started on your estate.
What are some additional considerations?
Another thing that people often use a letter of instruction for is the care and keeping of their pets. If you have a dog or a cat that could potentially outlive you, you need to make sure that you find out who is willing to take over their care and designate that person in your letter. Make sure that you provide necessary information for that person, such as your veterinarian's name and contact information. Also include information on where to find your pet's shot records and license, if necessary.
A letter of instruction is an important, but often neglected, part of estate planning. If you need help putting one together, contact your attorney for assistance.