While most adults know they should have a will, few realize they should also have a companion document known as a letter of instruction. This is a flexible, informal, cost-free personal document that is not legally binding but which can serve multiple purposes. Letters of instruction benefit heirs, and you.

A letter of instruction can, among other things:

  • Provide a list of the estate’s assets, as well as the location and approximate value of those assets.
  • List the names and phone numbers of your financial planner, accountant, brokers, insurance agents, attorney or other financial professionals.
  • Tell the location of other essential documents and information, such as a safe-deposit box (and the key to it), tax or military records, birth certificate and credit card accounts.
  • Spell out funeral arrangements. Your heirs are not legally bound to follow all your wishes, but at least you won’t leave your loved ones to guess.

Many attorneys will help prepare this along with your other documents, and some will offer additional services to directly instruct your family members.

Because letters of instruction are not legally binding, it’s also easy to update them annually or when there are major changes such as a marriage, divorce or the purchase of valuable property.  Keep a copy at home, with your executor or with an attorney, so your heirs will be able to locate it easily when necessary.

Letters of Instruction Benefit Heirs … and You