If you are a millennial, like me, the idea of planning for what happens after your untimely demise doesn’t seem like an urgent, critically important task to anguish over. You may have wondered… “why do I even need a will?” Well there are some folks that will tell you that having a will in place isn’t really all that necessary (yet). This usually applies to those who are mentioned in that catchy Khalid song – or in other words – young, broke, and single with no kids.1
Alternatively, if you own assets, you’re married, or if you have children, then it’s a prudent decision to have a comprehensive estate plan. This typically includes your last will and testament, powers of attorney, healthcare proxy, and advance directives. One often overlooked item, which is strongly encouraged, is the letter of instruction.
What is a letter of instruction?
It is a document that is not legally binding, unlike a will, but more of “crib sheet” for the executor of your will or your family. Since this document has no legal authority, you are free to include any messages to your family and those matters that may not be included in the will or advance directive. In general, what is written in your letter of instruction is entirely up to you. Although there are no requirements regarding what is mentioned – there are a few items that you might want to outline that will make your executor’s life much easier as they work through probate.
- A list of your assets, where you have not designated a transfer-on-death (TOD) or payable-on-death (POD), and how you would like them dispersed
- The location of any assets that may not be easily accessible
- All your account information, including usernames/passwords, PINs, and account numbers for all your bank/retirement accounts
- A summary of your investments and life insurance policies
- Your wishes on funeral and burial preferences, including any advance arrangements that have been made (such as charitable donations in lieu of flowers)
- Location of important documents such as tax returns, Social Security statements, birth certificate, real estate title, etc.
- Information on creditors such as your mortgage, vehicle loan, personal loans, etc.
- If you have pets, you should list where you would like for them to go
In short, a letter of instruction is meant to be informal, flexible, and can be written up without the need for an attorney. It is meant to be looked at as special instructions to your loved ones in complement to your last will. It can also help simplify a complex inheritance structure to your heirs.
Finally, try to keep your letter of instructions current. Inevitably things will occur during your lifetime that requires you to update your instructions to reflect any changes. Lastly, be sure to leave the document in a place so your loved ones can easily locate it.
The Team at White Raven Financial
1 You may not need a will (yet) but it is wise to have your bank accounts designated as payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) accounts so you can assign beneficiaries. Retirement accounts should also have primary and contingency beneficiaries listed as well.
Advisory services offered through White Raven Financial Services, Inc. a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Washington.