There are many estate planning documents that attorneys recommend but none are more simple than a Letter of Last Instruction.
A Letter of Last Instruction is an organized way for you to give your family direction on information that may be difficult to find after you’ve passed. It’s an easy-to-create document that doesn’t need an attorney and can fill the holes between wills and trusts. A thorough letter can save survivors the burden of scrambling to piece together items during a difficult time of grieving.
Here are some basic items to include when putting together your own Letter of Last Instruction:
This is a list of any individuals who should be notified of your death including relatives, employer, friends, neighbors, business associates, organizations (church, alma mater, social groups), attorney, CPA, insurance agent, etc.
What type of funeral would you like? Special songs, public or private event, open or closed casket, donations, memorials, obituary information, cremation/disposal of ashes, burial location, pallbearers?
This will instruct your loved ones on where you keep important documents. This could include instructions on where the key to the lockbox is or the location of files in your desk. Many people now keep electronic copies of their important documents. Some financial firms offer clients the ability to securely store documents in an electronic vault. No matter how you store your electronic documents, instructions on how to access them are important.
List of Accounts and Subscriptions
This is a list of your financial accounts such as bank/credit union, old 401k, IRA, brokerage, credit card, etc. Also, any subscriptions, how they are paid and if they should be discontinued. Many subscriptions auto-renew and may no longer be needed. Be sure to include all contact information.
Are you insured? Make a list of life insurance policies and property/casualty insurance information. Where are documents for these policies located? What insurance may need to be canceled?
Electronic access and passwords
Much (probably too much) of our lives is now spent on our phones, computers, and social media. Make sure your loved ones can access your devices, accounts, email, and photos. If you feel uneasy about sharing a list of your super-secret passwords, you can give clues that your loved-ones would be able to figure out. Just don’t make it too difficult. For those of you with an iPhone, Apple now gives you the ability to add a Legacy Contact who would be granted access to your data after your death. Search “Apple Legacy Contact” online for easy-to-follow instructions.
Do you pay the bills?
In most relationships, there is one person who oversees paying bills. This is the person who writes checks, balances the accounts, etc. and not necessarily the one “bringing home the bacon.” If you are the bill-payer, make sure you leave instruction on how bills are paid. Some may be on autopilot out of a savings account, others on the credit card because you get points. However you pay your bills, instructions will make it easier for someone else to pick up where you left off, or cancel what is no longer needed.
Personal Notes and Thanks
On a more personal side, you may also wish to write a final note to family and/or special friends. In my own Letter of Last Instruction, I have notes sprinkled throughout telling my wife and kids what they have meant to me.
This list hits on many, but not all the things, you may want to include in your letter. Instead of being overwhelmed, start small with the most important things you’d like to communicate. You can write this on paper, in Word, or as I have done as an Excel document with multiple tabs. There are also many templates that can be found online including the one put together by our team. Make this something you add to and update regularly. None of us knows when our time is up and making things easier for our loved ones when we’re gone is a wonderful gift.
Feel free to use our template to get you started - Letter of Last Instruction. The document is designed to be filled out directly in the file or you can print it out and hand write your information.