What is a Letter of Last Instruction in Estate Planning?
A letter of last instruction is an informal document that is often one of the most helpful ways to assist in those early hours and days following death. It’s basically a starting point in that it provides your family members the information needed for your personal and financial matters. Here’s the crucial element: while it’s extraordinarily helpful, it’s never intended to replace any of your legally binding estate planning documents. Keep reading as we explore these informal documents and the role they serve.
The letter provides essential and initial information needed by your surviving family members. It can include your wishes for who is to be notified following your death, phone numbers and email addresses. It could include family members, friends, organizations you’re a part of, your legal representation, accountant and others.
Some prefer to include any funeral arrangements that have been preplanned. While much of the information will likely be in the estate plan, this initial list or note can be a big help in those first hours and until your loved ones have had the opportunity to incorporate the legal documents. Because many more Americans are opting for organ donations after death, this list could be what ensures your donations remain viable. Your letter might also include an autopsy request, how you like your memorial service – such as whether or not you want a public viewing, for example, any special flowers you would like to have, donation preferences and any newspapers you wish to publish your obituary. You might also wish to include the funeral home you’ve made plans with (or the one you wish your family to use) and any other specifics.
In your letter, give the location of all of your personal documents including your will, birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates; communion and confirmation certificates, diplomas, military papers and adoption papers if applicable.
Your will likely includes the information for your financial accounts, your home, automobiles, etc., but again, a quick list that points your loved ones in the right direction can go a long way. You might wish to provide the location of registration, title, and other papers for your automobiles and other titled property.
List all of your checking, saving, certificates of deposit, IRA, and other financial accounts by name and institution. You may choose to include addresses, the types of accounts, stocks, bonds etc., but there’s a bigger chance your estate planning lawyer will discourage you from providing too many details in a document that may land in the wrong hands. Remember, this information is included in your estate plan and while you want to make things easier for your loved ones, you may defeat the purpose with too much information.
Remember, these are optional, informal and often handwritten letters, but they can play a very important role as your loved ones go about the business of honoring your wishes and while also ensuring your legal wishes are carried out later.
To learn more, we invite you to contact The Zimmer Law Firm today at (513) 721-1513.