By: Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq.
The “Letter of Instruction” – a helpful, less-formal supplement to the Last Will and Testament – is a common addition to any estate plan. A Letter of Instruction is an informal document that may give your loved ones information concerning important financial and personal matters that may need to be addressed after you have passed away.
As opposed to the essential estate planning documents – the Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, and Combined Advance Directive for Health Care (living will) – which an attorney should always prepare, a Letter of Instruction may be prepared by the testator himself and left where it may be conveniently located once the testator has passed away. Although a Letter of Instruction does not carry the legal weight of a Last Will and Testament, and is in no way a substitute for a Will, a Letter of Instruction may clarify any special requests to be carried out upon your death and may provide essential financial information, thus relieving your friends and family of needless worry and speculation at that time. If the testator chooses to draft such a Letter of Instruction, it is usually suggested that the letter be handwritten, signed by the testator, and contain, but not be limited to, the following:
- A personal message to loved ones.
- The location of important papers, including birth and marriage certificates, military records, divorce documents, original insurance policies, stock certificates, etc.
- A summary of financial accounts and insurance policies, including account numbers and contact information for representatives or institutions.
- The location of documents relating to the personal residence, including an inventory of household contents, warranties and receipts for significant items, and a list of sentimental personal items naming next to each item to whom it should be distributed upon death.
- Details of the whereabouts of any safe deposit box, if any, its key, and a list of its contents.
- Important passwords or PIN numbers for financial, e-mail, or social media accounts.
- Information as to any advance funeral arrangements that may have been made including, but not limited to, cremation instructions or the location of the cemetery plot deed.
- The names, telephone numbers, and addresses of family members, friends, acquaintances, and institutions that should be notified of the testator’s passing.
Because estate and trust planning, administration, and litigation requires specialized knowledge, you may wish to consult with an experienced attorney if you are either a fiduciary or beneficiary of an estate or trust. Specifically, you may wish to contact an attorney if you have questions regarding your estate planning, the probate process, administration of an estate or trust, fiduciary obligations, preparation of a formal or informal accounting, refunding bonds and releases, and the procedures for filing a formal accounting or exceptions thereto. This article is for information purposes only, and is neither legal advice nor the creation of an attorney client relationship.
Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq. / Timothy J. Little, P.C. – 2016 – All Rights Reserved