A letter of last instructions isn’t one of those legal documents that will greatly affect the way your estate is handled after you’re no longer here. Still, many clients opt to prepare an informal document they refer to as a letter of intent or letter of last instructions. The letter of intent can be beneficial and can be a big help to your loved ones in the days following your death. Simply stated, the letter of last instructions provide instructions or guidance for what you would like in those earliest moments between the time of death and the funeral (and ultimately, the reading of a will).
One of the more important aspects is that it’s informal. It provides a bit more intimacy, often in your own handwriting, and if nothing else, provides a sentimental addition to the stress a family is feeling. There’s no need for a notary or the services of your estate planning lawyer. You may wish to provide your attorney a copy of the final document for inclusion in your estate planning package.
Often, family members find themselves struggling in those initial moments; it’s human nature and part of the grieving process. If you’ve ever been with a loved one in her final moments, you can relate to those frenzied first minutes where you’re unsure of what to do next, even as you know you must leave the hospital and return home to begin making the more formal and final arrangements. In fact, you may leave the hospital for the last time with your loved one’s personal effects, such as jewelry and clothing. It can be overwhelming.
A checklist can be mightily helpful. Consider adding:
A list of people you wish to be notified after your passing. Include phone numbers and addresses (email addresses when possible). You may wish to include people in your book reading club, perhaps an old college friend or your employer.
Include professional acquaintances. Don’t forget to provide information on how to contact your estate planning attorney. The same goes for your accountant, bank, insurance agent and your executor, along with their contact information.
Provide details on where things such as your address book or social security card are located. If they’re in the hall closet, try to be as specific as possible: “under the quilts, third shelf”.
Provide information on any funeral arrangements you’ve premade along with the location of any burial policies.
Note specifics regarding your funeral: the types of flowers you prefer, the hymns you would like sung, whether you prefer your casket to be opened or closed during the viewing.
What about personal documents? Military papers? Marriage or divorce documents, diplomas, adoption papers, communion certificates, birth certificates? These are all important, even if for sentimental reasons.
Include information on where automobile titles are located along with insurance information.
Include information on your online accounts: Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, bank accounts and credit card accounts. User names and passwords are helpful since social media platforms and digital sites have various rules on how they handle accounts where the owner is no longer living. Provide information regarding any post office box you might have.
Be sure to keep your letter up to date, especially if there have been changes in your family, such as marriages and divorces. Keep your estate planning lawyer current and be sure your family members will know where to find your letter of intent.
Finally, remember this document is in no way a substitute for your legal estate plan. This is simply a document to provide guidance for a grieving family who’s dealing with the loss. This document should serve one purpose only and that’s to help your family members as they begin the process of life without you.