A Letter of Instruction, also called a letter of final instruction or a letter of intent, is a simple letter to the executor of your estate and to any other individuals. The content of the letter usually includes basic instructions for how to proceed when taking care of your will, any trusts, the funeral, and other issues stemming from your death.
The letter is not legally binding and cannot be used in place of a Last Will and Testament. Nor can it replace advance directives or any other legal form. However, the letter is a valuable tool for the executor because it can summarize quickly what needs to be done. The letter may contain passwords and other vital information that is not normally kept in a Will, which would allow the executor and anyone helping him or her to contact your friends and companies with which you did business.
Letters like these may also contain additional information regarding funeral instructions, warnings about behavior at the funeral, and so on. If you anticipate disputes over the contents of your Will, though, you must work with an estate-planning attorney to make your Will airtight as a letter of instruction does not have to be followed by anyone, even the executor of your estate.
The format of the letter is your choice as are the contents you include in the letter. Along with practical instructions for your executor, you may also wish to include explanations for the decisions you made in your estate plan. If you made choices that you know will upset beneficiaries and/or heirs, offering an explanation via your Letter of Instruction could decrease the possibility of a Will contest.
Although a Letter of Instruction is a personal, informal document it still makes sense to discuss the contents with your estate planning attorney. First, your attorney may be able to give you some ideas or suggestions of items to include in the letter that you haven’t thought of yourself. Second, your estate planning attorney needs to know that the letter exists and should preferably have a copy of the letter. In the event of your death, loved ones will likely contact your estate planning attorney first to find out if a Will was left behind. Ideally, your attorney will have a copy of the Letter of Instruction to pass on to the executor of your estate so that he or she can get started with the process of probating your estate.
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