What will happen to your pet after you pass? Who will care for your property and personal affairs? What music do you want played at your funeral and what will be served for lunch?
These are all important questions best addressed in a letter of instruction.
What is a letter of instruction?
We are often asked by people planning their wills, “what is a letter of instruction?” We’ve answered that question individually so many times, that we decided to create a tool to help people write a letter of instruction in about ten minutes.
A letter of instruction is like your will’s best friend. It’s not a legal document. Rather, it’s a supplement to your will. It guides the person settling your estate through the process, step by step, in language that’s easy to understand.
Whereas a will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the legal care of your minor children and distribution of your property and assets upon your passing, a letter of instruction explains how those things should happen.
A will answers the “what” and “who.” A letter of instruction helps with the “how” and “why” of your wishes for your family and property after your passing.
Why you need a letter of instruction
Many people think a simple will is all they need to ensure their property, possessions and wishes regarding their family are taken care of to their satisfaction upon their death. Interestingly, there’s nowhere to provide instructions about a wake, or where you want your ashes scattered, in a will.
There are numerous topics people want and need to address as part of their planning, like:
- Advice on caring for children
- Funeral plans
- Pet care
- Location of important documents and digital assets (e.g., social security statements, tax returns, birth and marriage certificates, divorce and citizenship papers, property and auto titles, insurance certificates, etc.)
- Contact information for any debtors (e.g., mortgage, credit card statements, car loans, etc.)
- Wishes for items of tangible property
- Instructions on a family business
- Safe deposit box instructions
- Names of trusted advisors (e.g., CPA, registered advisor, family or personal attorney, insurance broker, etc.)
- A complete list of all assets
- Information about liquid assets (e.g., bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, etc.)
- Preferred charities for donations, if expected
- Beneficiary list
Leaving these items unaddressed could place your heirs and executor in a bind when trying to make important decisions upon your death.
A letter of instruction is the appropriate place to address all of these concerns. It’s your voice after your passing on how you want your affairs handled.
Isn’t a will good enough?
We’ve touched on this already, but a will is a legally-binding document that dictates your wishes about your assets and minor children. It’s critical to have one and to keep it up to date.
A will provides clear direction about who gets your assets and cares for your minor children after your death. It lets you name an executor who has authority to do what your will prescribes.
However, your will does not outline your personal desires.
For instance, while your will makes clear which assets you are leaving to your heirs, it does not say how they are to use those assets. If you have any specific instructions or desires on how you’d like your heirs to use a specific asset, you need a letter of instruction. This non-legal document is the place to make your preferences clear about things your will can’t address, like:
- What happens to your social media accounts after your passing
- Guidance to your heirs about using the money you’re leaving them
- Direction to the guardians of your children
- Your obituary
In a letter of instruction, you are able to express your personal values and beliefs to those you hold dear.
What goes in a letter of instruction?
We are asked this question so often that we created a tool to walk you through the process of writing your letter of instruction. Our digital guide makes it easy to address the following areas:
- Funeral planning
- Care for children and pets
- Guidance regarding special assets, like a business
- Detailed contact information for beneficiaries and advisors
- Worksheets to list asset information
You select the items you want to address and our form walks you through it. Most people complete their letter of instruction through our website in about ten minutes.
Best of all, this tool is completely free. So, even if you made your will somewhere else and are just looking for a letter of instruction, you can use our tool free of charge.
What if I mess it up?
Thankfully, you really can’t mess up a letter of instruction. Since it is not a legally-binding document, if there is ever an instance where your letter of instruction conflicts with your will, your will wins.
Your letter of instruction cedes authority to your will.
Get Your Will Package and Letter of Instruction Today
If you already have a will, great! If not, or if it’s been years since you updated it, Mama Bear Legal Forms can help.
Creating or updating your will doesn’t take long or cost much. You can do it in 20 minutes from the comfort of your own home at a time that is convenient for you.
Mama Bear Legal Forms provides law firm quality, state-specific documents that are easy to create, simple to download and incredibly affordable.
All three of the forms we offer in our Will Package are legally valid in all states and include guidance on how to complete them.