Having a will is a great first step in easing the stress your family will feel as they make decisions after your passing. However, a will only outlines the distribution of your assets and can leave many other decisions up to your family. Trying to guess what you might have wanted can lead to feuding within families.
One recommended solution is to leave a simple list of instructions. In this list you can include many of your wishes that will not be laid out in estate planning documents. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “When a Will Isn’t Enough”, it was recommended that the letter be separated into three categories: “funeral arrangements, financial and personal affairs, and distribution of personal effects.”
This section can be quite a relief for grieving families struggling with the question: “what would they have wanted?’ In your letter provide a list of who to contact for the funeral, information about any prepaid funeral arrangements or burial plots, how you would like to be buried and what kind of funeral you would like. While not necessary, your loved ones might also appreciate a designated charity to receive donations in your honor.
Financial and Personal Affairs:
Here you list your contact information for any professionals your family may want to get a hold of – such as a financial planner or attorney. It may also be helpful to include a basic list of all your financial assets such as stocks, bonds and retirement accounts for your executor’s convenience. It is important to make sure that this section is accurate and does not contradict instructions in your will. In this section, be sure to include information about where all your other important papers are located such as the title to your car, mortgage information, estate planning documents and the location of a safety deposit box.
Distribution of Personal Effects:
Finally, use this section to add extra details to the information in your will. As stated in The Wall Street Journal article, “here’s where you can specify who gets the pots, pans, clothes and books.” If you have any pets, you can also add detailed instructions for their care.
It is important to remember that a letter of instruction is not a legally binding estate planning document. Despite this shortcoming, it is still a useful tool to help your family, especially if you have a large estate or complex wishes. Talk to an elder law attorney about your letter of instructions in order to make sure that it does not contradict your estate plan and that you did not leave anything out.