We love meeting with clients to execute their estate plans. Clients have a well-deserved sense of accomplishment that they’ve asked the hard questions, made the right decisions, and now have a plan in place. They have peace of mind that their family will be provided for and their wishes will be carried out. However, there is one last piece that needs to fall into place for every estate plan to be well organized. It is a paper or digital file that you keep in a safe, accessible place known to your executor and/or family. It is a letter of instructions which will serve as a valuable roadmap to enable your executor to identify and assemble assets, successfully settle your estate and carry out your wishes. Your letter of instructions should include:
- A complete list of all assets;
- The location of any tangible assets that are not readily accessible;
- Information about all liquid assets, including bank, brokerage, retirement, and investment accounts, including passwords and PINs;
- Names and contact information of any bankers, brokers, attorneys, or other professionals who handle your assets;
- Preferred charities for donations, if any are to be made;
- The location of legal and financial documents such as bank and social security statements, tax returns, birth and marriage certificates, divorce and citizenship papers, Social Security card, titles and/or deeds for any real estate properties, wills, and trusts;
- A list of all financial account designated beneficiaries or other estate beneficiaries and their contact information;
- The location of all safe deposit boxes and their keys;
- The contact information of any debtors, such as mortgages, credit cards, and car loans;
- Any digital account and computer passwords and PINs, if required to access important information or assets;
- Instructions for social media accounts, if applicable;
- A list of memberships that have value, such as frequent flier accounts;
- Funeral and burial instructions and evidence of any prepaid plans or title to pre-purchased burial plots;
- Information regarding the disposition of specific assets, such as who would get a sentimental possession or heirloom, if your Will states that these articles are to be distributed according to a letter. I strongly recommend this letter be kept with the Will and dated, so everyone is clear that it is the most current. I also recommend it be sent to me to keep with the original Will. It is important to note that if your Will does not provide for this type of letter, it will not be recognized, especially if it contradicts your Will. The terms of your Will govern all dispositions.
- Details about and contact information for any and all insurance coverage, especially life insurance;
- Instructions for the care and placement of any pets; and
- Any personal messages you’d like to leave to loved ones.
The above list is a guide and not meant to be exhaustive. The general rule for what to include will be based on (i) what information someone needs to know to step into your shoes and settle your estate and (ii) what information you would like someone to know in order to manage your affairs according to your wishes after you are gone.
The hardest part will be compiling the information the first time. Start with the easy items so you have a sense of accomplishment, and then continue on through the list. Once it is done, updating the instruction letter should not be time consuming. A review of the letter should be done annually to keep it up-to-date as things inevitably change over time.
It is easy to see how critical it would be for your executor to have the letter and how much more difficult his or her task would be without it. This is a final act of kindness for those you leave behind and a critical component of a well-organized estate plan.
If you have any questions about this or any aspect of your plan, we would be happy to assist you. Please contact Michele Gartland or Marianne Cirillo directly with any questions or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.