“Put it in writing” is a familiar term that carries a lot of weight. Why? Because when specific instructions and details are written down, it is concrete evidence that is less likely to be questioned. A well-written letter of instructions can be an invaluable tool in estate planning, as it can ensure that the person’s final wishes are carried out.
Wills vs. Letters of Instructions
Wills are used for legal needs, such as naming guardians for minor children, beneficiaries, and executors. Letters of instructions are for more personal matters, such as who to contact after the passing, and who should take care of a pet.
These requests should not be in the will, since they are more personal and can make matters more complicated for those involved. Much of the details are subjective rather than objective, so keeping them separate can make the proceedings easier and help survivors understand the testator’s motives. Just as important, a separate letter of instruction can help maintain the legal integrity of the will itself. Like a will, a letter of instructions should be drafted and signed while the testator is of sound mind.
What to Include
These letters can have important information that will help the executor and other agents carry out the will’s instructions. One of the first things to list is contact information for those that should be told about the passing. Funeral arrangements will need to be made, so including service and burial requests is important. Many even choose to write their own obituaries.
Survivors will also need to know where the testator’s legal papers can be found, including social security and insurance cards, deeds and titles, military discharge papers, birth certificates, trusts, wills, tax returns, and powers of attorney. Lists of bank and investment accounts, safe deposit boxes, life insurance policies, and computer passwords are also helpful.
On a More Personal Note
When composing a will, some people worry that their beneficiaries will disagree about its instructions. A letter can help with this by explaining why one family member might be receiving a beloved heirloom instead of another, for example. Other sentiments, such as loving statements for a spouse or partner, details about how a gift should be shared, or comments on personal values can also be included.
The letter can be used for distribution of personal items, whether they have monetary or sentimental value (including pets). Having this all written down with explanations can also prevent hurt feelings and arguments for family members and friends.
Letters of instruction are not legally binding documents; they are used to complement the will. There are no set rules for writing one, but the above guidelines include items that should help the survivors. Some people include family anecdotes, recipes, photos, even videos with their letters.
Brooklyn Elder Law Lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP Can Help With Every Aspect of Your Estate Planning
A well-crafted letter of instructions can alleviate stress for your beneficiaries during a difficult time. To learn more about smart estate planning, contact a knowledgeable Brooklyn elder law lawyer at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP today. Our offices are in Brooklyn, New York, and Lakewood, New Jersey, and we serve families in Manhattan, Long Island, and Westchester, New York. Call 212-495-8133 or complete an online contact form today to get started.