What Is a Letter of Instruction and How Do I Write One?
Several important documents make up a complete estate plan, including a letter of last instruction. These letters serve many purposes, including detailing your end-of-life wishes.
When you need valuable guidance regarding the creation and maintenance of your estate plan, count on the estate planning lawyers at the Law Offices of Brandon White, P.C.
What Is a Letter of Instruction (LOI)? Why You May Need It
As the name indicates, the letter of last instruction is a letter detailing certain instructions not found in other estate planning documents. While these instructions are not legally binding, they can provide valuable information to those handling your estate after your passing.
Your estate plan contains plenty of critical information required after your passing, but a letter of instruction is used to provide additional particulars that your other documents, including your will or trusts, may not provide. Your LOI can include details like financial information and funeral plans.
Estate plans and letters of instruction are for everyone, not just those of advanced age. All adults can benefit greatly from leaving their loved ones with the last wishes letter.
How to Write a Letter of Instruction for Heirs and Beneficiaries
For your last wishes document, include as much detailed information as you can to help your loved ones manage your estate and follow through with your last wishes after your passing.
Your letter of instruction should contain everything that’s most important to you and your estate, including financial details and personal information.
Financial information is among the most important details you should include in your letter of instruction. Your financial material should provide sufficient instructions and guidance to help your loved ones manage your finances appropriately.
The following is the type of financial information you should include in your letter of instruction.
Complete List of Your Assets
Your letter of instruction for will should contain a list of everything you own, including:
- Real estate (homes, rental properties, and commercial spaces);
- Vehicles (cars, boats, and motorcycles);
- Savings and checking accounts;
- Investment and retirement accounts;
- Personal property, including jewelry;
- Art and other valuable pieces.
Along with a list of assets, you should include details such as where to find your assets and how to access them. If your assets require paperwork, like a deed, describe where your deeds are located.
Assets are a critical part of an estate. The easier it is for your loved ones to access your assets, the more efficiently they can handle your estate.
Complete List of Your Debts
Your loved ones don’t just need to know about your assets; they should also be aware of your debts.
Debts can include:
- Car loans
- Credit card balances
- Personal loan balances
It is also helpful to include information regarding other recurring monthly bills and expenses, such as utilities and home services.
After your passing, the personal representative handling your estate must manage your debts. They are tasked with either continuing to pay your monthly bills if necessary or paying off any outstanding balances you have at the time of your death.
When you include details regarding your debts, your personal representative does not need to spend time finding this information.
If you have important insurance policies, like life insurance, add the information for the policy in your letter of instruction. This can include the insurance company’s name, policy details, the amount the insurance is for, and who the beneficiary is.
Once you’ve passed, your loved ones can notify the beneficiary so they can proceed to collect your life insurance proceeds.
If you have other insurance, like home, car, or health insurance, also include this information. Your personal representative will need to update or cancel your insurance policies, depending on the type of insurance.
It is particularly helpful to your loved ones if you include a section in your letter of instruction detailing information about important contacts. These individuals can include:
- Financial advisors
- Insurance agents
Contact information for these people should include their position, place of work, phone number, email address, and mailing address. You may also want to provide details regarding what each person handled for you.
Your loved ones and personal representative may have no idea who you’ve dealt with in the past, and these listed contacts may hold valuable information that could help successfully manage your estate.
The Location of Important Documents
Certain documents are especially critical to handling your estate after your passing. In your letter of instruction, let your loved ones know where they can find these documents.
Important documents can include any of the following:
- Wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents
- Property deeds
- Vehicle titles
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Tax documents
- Personal information, including your Social Security number
Your personal representative will need to provide specific documents, including your will, to the probate court. If your representative or loved ones cannot locate your documents, this can make the probate process much more complicated and lengthy.
Beneficiaries, Pets, and Children
Beneficiaries, pets, and children are all important to your estate after your passing.
To help ensure your intended beneficiaries are notified of your passing and receive what you’d like them to get, include their names and contact information in your letter of instruction family care plan. That way, no beneficiary is missed.
If you have pets, make sure they will be taken care of upon your death. Include information regarding who you’d like to take your pets and care for them for the rest of their lives.
Finally, if you have minor children, you can detail who you’d like to take care of your children once you’re gone.
When it comes to personal information, there are no rules. You can include any last wishes or relevant information you’d like your loved ones to know. Feel free to make your final instructions letter all your own.
Your Burial and Funeral
If you have specific wishes for your funeral and burial, include them in your letter of instruction, including:
- Type of service
- Your final resting spot
- Your obituary
While some don’t want to think so far ahead, many prefer to describe the services they’d like to satisfy their wishes as well as make it easier for their loved ones during a difficult time.
Your Digital Assets
When people think of assets, they usually think of tangible objects and property. However, assets can also be intangible.
These days, everyone has digital assets. Your digital assets can include:
- Social media accounts
- Email accounts
If you have accounts that require login information, you can also provide those details in your letter of instruction. Giving your loved ones easy access to your digital assets can ensure they’re properly managed and in the right hands to avoid misuse.
What Not to Put in a Letter of Instruction
There are details you should put in your letter of instruction upon death, but there are also some you should not include.
There is a debate about a letter of instruction vs. last will. While the two might involve similar information, they are distinct. One of the biggest details that differentiate the two is that a will is a legally binding document and a letter of instruction is not.
Because a letter of instruction is not a legally binding document, there is flexibility with the information you can include and the language you use. Last will require specific information in a more formal tone.
Generally, anything you would include in a will you should leave out of your end-of-life instructions, including information regarding how to distribute your assets.
What to add or exclude from your letter of instruction can be confusing, but an estate planning attorney can help you.
Tips for Writing a Letter of Last Instruction
Consider Following a Template
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to include in your letter of instruction. Fortunately, letter of instruction samples may be a useful tool to help you write your letter.
An estate planning lawyer can provide templates and guide you in the right direction to ensure you’re happy with the finished product.
Keep the Letter Updated
Many treat estate plans as a fix-it-and-forget-it type of situation, but that shouldn’t be the case. You should regularly review your estate planning documents — letter of instruction included — in case they require any changes.
Life is constantly evolving. Additionally, your wishes and desires might change as the year's progress and you get older. Your estate plan should always reflect any changes and goals.
Your death wishes document is one of the most important pieces of your estate plan. Every time you review it and change it, make sure to execute it validly and inform your loved ones and personal representative of where it is. Your estate planning documents are the key to effectively handling your estate after your passing.
Along with keeping your letter updated, you should also update your other critical estate planning documents, including your living will and healthcare power of attorney.
Save It Somewhere Safe
Once you have written your letter of instruction and other estate planning documents, save them somewhere safe and secure. Safe locations could include locked filing cabinets or safety deposit boxes.
Also, make sure to inform your trusted individuals of where they can find your documents and how to access them.
Letters of Instruction: the Bottom Line
Estate plans and letters of instruction are important for adults of all ages. When you need assistance with your estate plan, count on a qualified estate planning attorney.
Our legal team at the Law Offices of Brandon White, P.C., uses their knowledge and skill to prepare estate plans that meet each client’s needs.
Contact us today to request a meeting with one of our estate planning attorneys.
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