A Letter of Instruction, also called a Letter of Instructions or Letter of Final Instructions, is a type of estate planning letter. Ideally, you should prepare this type of letter after you have completed your estate planning documents, such as a last will and testament, a living will or advance health care directive, a power of attorney for finances, and a Last Wishes Planner. An estate planning Letter of Instruction provides information to the person responsible for settling your affairs. It is designed to help your executor and those closest to you.
Reasons to Write a Letter of Instruction
There are several reasons you should prepare a Letter of Instruction about your estate, including:1. To ensure your estate planning documents can be located and your last wishes will be honored.2. To ensure all your important papers can be located, which will assist your executor in settling your estate in a timely manner. If your executor cannot locate important papers, it could increase the costs of administering your estate.3. To ensure all your property can be located and your assets are distributed according to your estate plan. For help with this, complete our Estate Planning Worksheet. If important documents such as stock certificates, property deeds, and life insurance policies cannot be located, your heirs and beneficiaries may not receive the inheritance you intended. Similarly, if you have personal property stored in a home safe or
safe deposit box that your executor does not know about, such property may go unclaimed rather than being passed to your chosen beneficiaries.
How to Write a Letter of Instruction
If you retain an attorney to draft your estate planning documents, your lawyer may assist you in writing your Letter of Instruction. If you are going through the process of making an estate plan without a lawyer, you can view a sample Letter of Instruction on our site that explains what types of information you should include in this estate planning letter. To view this free estate planning form, go to Letter of Instruction Form.
Personal Statements About Your Estate Plan
Formal estate planning documents such as a last will and testament often become public record, such as when an estate is subject to probate. If you have disinherited a relative in your will, such as a child, parent or sibling, you may want to explain the reason such person was disinherited. If you want to express some harsh words to that person or the explanation is of a personal nature, you may want to write an explanation for the disinheritance in a Letter of Instruction.
By using a Letter of Instruction to convey your personal feelings regarding any inheritances from your estate, you may be able to have some satisfaction that your point was made without putting your personal statements in a legally binding document, such as a will that may become public.
What to Leave Out of a Letter of Instruction
A Letter of Instruction should not duplicate statements already made in your estate planning documents. A Letter of Instruction is not a legal document. It is merely supplemental information designed to be helpful or informative. If you put information in a Letter of Instruction that is different from the information contained in your will or living trust, it could be used by your heirs or others to start a
will or trust dispute, which could be very costly. If you are unsure whether an issue should be included in your Letter of Instruction, ask the attorney that drafted your estate planning documents. Also, do not write a Letter of Instruction as a way to update your will, living trust or other formal estate planning documents. If these documents need updated or revised, take action to have your formal estate planning documents revised by consulting an attorney. See
codicils and amendments.
A Letter of Instruction is not a substitute for keeping your estate planning documents up to date. Attempting to make updates or changes to your estate plan via a Letter of Instruction will only lead to problems in administering your estate, since a Letter of Instruction is not legally binding.
Update Letter of Instruction Regularly
Keep your Letter of Instruction up to date, along with your formal estate planning documents. The frequency with which your Letter of Instruction should be updated depends on the amount and type of changes you experience, including financial and investment changes, changes to the property you own, changes in how you want your assets distributed, changes to your memorial preferences, etc. For help with this, use our free estate plan checkup form.In general, you should review your Letter of Instruction once a year to determine if any updates or changes are necessary. In addition, consult an estate planning lawyer at least once every one to three years to discuss whether any updates should be made to your estate plan.
Estate Planning Letters
A Letter of Instruction is only one of several types of estate planning letters. Other types of estate planning letters include a guardianship letter, last wishes letter, and letter to pet guardian. For sample forms of estate planning letters and tips on how to write each type of letter, see
estate plan letters.