Important Legal Documents

Letter of Instruction

While you are planning for the future of your family and loved ones at the time of your death, consider the documents that will help those around you after you die or when you are in critical condition.

SUGGESTION: Timing is everything. The only way to have the following documents become legal—this applies to wills and trusts too—is if you are of "sound mind" when you sign them (this mental ability is called "capacity"). If you wait too long to have these documents prepared, injury or illness may cause you to lose capacity. Then, it is too late.

A Letter of Instruction is not an actual legal document, but simply a list of commands and instructions that is prepared for people to follow when you are sick or have died.

A Letter of Instruction includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • A list of legal documents and their location so someone could locate them
  • The location and instructions to computer programs (financial software) and file names where this information may be stored
  • The names and phone numbers of close family members to be contacted
  • Description of prepaid funeral arrangements; if not, a preference for one funeral home over another
  • A description of the type of desired funeral and whether burial, cremation, or body donation is preferred
  • The location of a pre-purchased burial plot or preference
  • A preference for charities to receive donations in your memory
  • Preferences for certain hospitals
  • A relatively current list of assets and debts
  • A list of insurance policies including life, medical, disability, long-term care, and property insurance
  • The location of all investment account statements
  • The location of all deeds to property
  • The location of copies of tax returns
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the following people:
    • Family doctor
    • Family attorney
    • Family accountant
    • Family stock broker(s)
    • Religious leader and house of worship

The Letter of Instruction must be in a location where people will be able to find it, such as the top drawer of a desk. The Letter of Instruction should be dated so it will be possible to determine which version is the most current (if several different versions are found). The letter should be updated when situations change (a change of doctors, a purchase of a burial plot, or a shift in money from one account to another). The letter does not have to be written; it can be taped (video or audio) or put on a computer file.

IMPORTANT NOTE: A Letter of Instruction will save the executor a lot of trouble and help reduce fees that the accountants and attorneys may charge the estate. This means more money for your loved ones.

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