What is a letter of instruction? A letter of instruction (also known as a letter of intent) is an informal supplement to an estate plan which provides your Successor Trustee or Executor with detailed information concerning your wishes after you die.
While a letter of instruction is not legally binding, it can provide useful information that will likely not be included in your Trust, Will, or other Estate Planning documents. Unlike with an Estate Plan, which should be drafted by a qualified Estate Planning attorney, you can draft a letter of instruction yourself. There are no rules about the structure or format.
What is typically covered in a letter of instruction? Here are some elements often included:
- Specific bequests for personal property, such as who you’d like to have family heirlooms, jewelry, firearms, etc.
- Personal desires concerning your burial, funeral, etc.
- Personal sentiments, messages to your loved ones, and expressions of love to be read when you are gone
- Instructions for the care of any pets
- Information to manage your digital life (like passwords to social media accounts)
- Details of the whereabouts and content of a safe deposit box
- The location of legal and financial papers like your Estate Plan, birth and marriage certificates, tax returns, divorce or citizenship papers, and military records
- Contact info on any debtors (mortgages, credit cards, car loans)
- Names and contact info on any professionals who handle your assets, like attorneys, CPAs, bankers, or brokers
Why isn’t this type of information generally included in your Trust or Will? Because you don’t want to have to amend or replace your documents every time this information changes. That would be expensive. At our firm, amending a Trust starts at $350; a new Will runs $250. If all of this specific information was included in your Estate Plan documents, you could potentially paying us a lot to constantly update it. Maybe 5 years from now, you’ll change your mind about who gets your gun collection. Maybe the person you wanted to get grandma’s wedding ring 10 years ago recently died or has become estranged from you. Maybe the pet goldfish you owned the day you created your Trust died the next day.
Because these types of things change frequently, we believe it’s more cost effective for our clients to put this type of detailed information in the letter of instruction and update it regularly – for free.
If you remember just 3 things about a letter of instruction, remember these 3 key takeaways:
- A letter of instruction is not a legally binding document.
- A letter of instruction does not have a required structure or format.
- A letter of instruction should be updated annually and kept in a safe place where it is accessible to your Successor Trustee/Executor. You can also send a copy to your Estate Planning attorney to place in your file.
If you’re a client of our firm and would like to send us a letter of instruction, you can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions or concerns about writing a letter of instruction, you can contact us here.