Letter of Instruction
How to write to give detailed instructions to your loved ones that your will or trust does not include
Write a Letter of Instruction to Supplement your Will
~ By Megan Gebhardt, Gebhardt Law Office, Estate Planning and Wills Attorney (and PEPS mom)
You have your will in place, have named a guardian for your children and finally purchased that life insurance policy. Now consider writing a letter that will be truly helpful to your loved ones.
What it is: A letter of instruction is a letter that you write to give detailed instructions to your loved ones that your will or trust does not include. For parents, a letter is the perfect place for including instructions to your children’s guardian regarding your children’s needs and your wishes for them. It is also a place to gather information such as financial account information, online accounts, passwords etc.
What it is not: A letter of instruction is not a legal document and is not a substitute for a will. You cannot use this letter to legally nominate a guardian for your children. Think of it as a supplement to your estate planning documents that gives more nuanced instruction to those who will take care of your estate and children if you pass away.
What it includes: The elements of a letter of instruction are up to you. As a starting point, consider the following three topics:
First Actions: Include direction to the reader telling them important people they should contact if you pass away (i.e. name and contact information for your attorney, CPA, financial planner, insurance agent) and the location of important documents (will, life insurance policy). Also include any plans you have for a memorial ceremony and funeral as well as directions for disposition of remains if not already included in your will.
Your Estate: While your will or trust may dispose of or hold your assets, it is helpful in this age of electronic billing statements to create a comprehensive list of what you own. Your financial accounts, account numbers, approximate balances and online usernames and passwords should be listed so that your personal representative knows what assets you have, not just what is supposed to happen to them. Also include a list of real property owned, the addresses where deeds can be found for the property, and directions for care of the property, if necessary.
Instructions to Children’s Guardian: Indispensible information such as medical conditions and names of health care providers should be included in the letter. Information important to you, such as your preferences for how your children are fed, can also be put in writing.
Some parents are lucky enough to nominate a children’s guardian in their will who lives around the corner, has been active in raising the children, and shares the parents’ parenting philosophy. However, it is more common that the friends or family named live in another state or country and are not active participants in the children’s life. If this is the case, explain who your children are: their likes and dislikes, interests, and the identity of their favorite blanket or lovey, if applicable. You can also include your parenting philosophy or approach, including your views on education, health, physical activity, and discipline.
Store this letter in a safe but accessible place and tell the person who will need to find it where it is. Consider the contents of the letter and make any needed updates annually.
The information in the letter, be it your wishes or financial account locations, is incredibly helpful to your loved ones when trying to follow your wishes.
About the Author
Megan lives in Seattle with her husband and two year old son, Mason. The family is expecting a second son in early 2013. She is the Owner of Gebhardt Law Office, and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning and elder law. She serves as Western Division Chair of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic and as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups. She is an enthusiastic supporter of PEPS and always recommends it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting. Her family is still close with their PEPS group.