The estate plan that you create is intended to protect you, your assets, and your loved ones as well as ensure that your loved ones are adequately provided for after you are gone. A well thought out estate plan will include a wide range of inter-related tools and strategies that work together to achieve your estate planning goals. Despite the numerous estate planning documents that are available to include in your plan, you may find that there is additional information and/or directions you wish to leave for your loved ones that does not seem to have a place in any of those documents. A North Andover estate planning attorney at DeBruyckere Law Offices explains how a Letter of Instruction may be the perfect addition to your estate plan.
Why Your Existing Estate Planning Tools May Not Be Enough
Although every estate plan is unique, the average estate plan will include a number of common documents. For example, a Last Will and Testament typically serves as the foundation of an estate plan, allowing you to appoint an Executor for your estate, gift assets, and nominate a Guardian for minor children. It cannot, however, explain why you did not gift your estate equally to your children nor why you appointed a sibling, instead of a spouse, as the Executor. You might also include a trust, which can help achieve a variety of goals, and into which you will transfer assets. A trust agreement, however, is not the best place to leave detailed instructions about upkeep of those assets or why you decided to pass down those assets in staggered disbursements. An advance directive can specifically grant an Agent the ability to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself and lets you make certain healthcare decisions yourself ahead of time. It cannot explain the reason why you made those decisions though. All of these estate planning documents are essential pieces to the puzzle you put together in an effort to protect yourself, your assets, and your loved ones. You may still feel though that pieces to the puzzle are missing. A Letter of Instruction can provide the missing pieces.
What Is a Letter of Instruction?
As the name implies, a Letter of Instruction is a document that you may include in your estate plan that provides instructions not found elsewhere in your plan. A Letter of Instruction, however, can also be used for other similar purposes. Anything you choose to include in your Letter of Instructions is not legally binding on anyone; however, the information you include can be crucial to your overall plan. Some common uses for a Letter of Instruction include:
- Provide the location of important estate planning documents, such as your Will, life insurance policies, or a trust agreement.
- Provide a summary of all assets you own along with account numbers and/or online log in instructions to access the accounts.
- Names and contact information for people that need to be contacted after your death.
- Instructions for maintaining assets. This could be as simple as how to winterize your vacation cottage or how to value your rare coin collection.
- Explanations for controversial decisions you made within your estate plan. For example, if you gave a large donation to charity or disinherited a child, this is your opportunity to explain why you did what you did.
- Express your wishes with regard to your funeral and burial. Ideally, you included a funeral component in your estate plan; however, you may wish to add details to ensure that your wishes are honored.
Should I Create a Letter of Instruction?
Whether or not a Letter of Instruction is right for your estate plan is ultimately a decision you must make after consulting with your estate planning attorney. Although the instructions you include in a Letter of Instruction are not legally binding, they can go a long way toward assisting with the probate of your estate and can help prevent litigation. Anything you can do to make your Executor’s job easier will ultimately benefit your loved ones. Moreover, if any of the terms of your estate plan are likely to cause conflict or animosity, explaining why you included those terms can deter litigation, or assist your Executor defend your wishes if litigation cannot be avoided.
Contact a North Andover Estate Planning Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about how a Letter of Instruction fits into your estate plan, contact a North Andover estate planning attorney at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.
Although a judge is not legally obligated to follow the instructions and/or wishes included in your Letter of Instruction, a judge can use the document to interpret your wishes and/or to tip the scales when making a difficult ruling during probate litigation.
An original copy should be kept with your Will and other estate planning documents. You may also wish to give your estate planning attorney a copy as well as the beneficiaries of your estate if you believe it would be beneficial for them to have a copy prior to your death.
Talk to your estate planning attorney about your wishes and hopes. Discuss controversial decisions you made within your estate plan and how a Letter of Instruction can help you explain those decisions in a way that might discourage litigation.