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Letter of Instruction in Estate Planning: What It Is & Why You Need It 

For those unfamiliar with the process, estate planning seems like “just another difficult and arduous legal procedure”. The thought of distributing your property when you are no longer there, is difficult to imagine. There is an easy way to ensure that even the most complex inheritance documents translate accurately and are represented as intended: A Letter of Instruction.  

A Letter of Instruction, also called a Letter of Intent, has the purpose of clearly communicating the intentions of the deceased to the executor (or anyone else who may need to interpret the contents). Such a document supplements the will as a step-by-step guide on how to proceed with estate planning or clarify some detail that was left out of the will.

For example, anyone who receives a Letter of Instruction upon death should know how to proceed with handling of the estate. The final Letter of Instruction should outline the executing the will and also specify who will receive specific or sentimental items. The Letter of Instruction serves as a key to translate the will.

In addition to supplementing a will, the letter also serves as a way for you to express your last wishes in a more personal format. The Letter of Instruction does not have to follow the same rigid structuring as many of its legally binding counterparts, as it has no legal authority in itself, and is not a public document. Because a Letter of Instruction is more personal, such a document usually provides some comfort for the family and simplify the inheritance process for any heirs who may not be familiar with the legal terminology associated with estate planning. Although the executor does not require a Letter of Instruction in order to proceed, such a document will serve as a guide to follow in instances of ambiguity.

Since this is a document without any legal ramifications, there is no prescribed format for a Letter of Instruction. Some contain detailed instructions on how to proceed with the Will, while others simply provide general guidelines to follow, for instance what to do with sentimental items, pets or donations.

The benefits of a well-crafted Letter of Instruction greatly outweigh the drawbacks of not writing one. The natural flexibility and non-legal nature of these letters imply that there is no right or wrong way to write them, but there are a few unwritten rules that you should take note of. Apart from a comprehensive list of all the assets in your possession and instructions for how the executor should disperse these assets, your Letter of Instruction should include the following:

  • A list of each account beneficiary and their contact information
  • Any papers pertaining to your marriage status and/or citizenship
  • Where to find important documents (tax returns, birth certificates, Title Deeds, etc.)
  • The contact information of creditors or policy holders (mortgage, car loan, insurance policies, etc.)
  • The contact information of previous attorneys, accountants, brokers, financial advisors, etc.
  • The date and your ID number
  • The location of any assets that are not easily accessible (including safe deposit boxes and their keys)
  • The login credentials pertaining to any financial accounts you may have (passwords, PIN numbers, account numbers, etc. So make sure the letter of instruction is in good hands.)

A Letter of Instruction looks somewhat like a Will in the sense that they both delegate instructions on what to do with assets and who gets them. However, a Letter of Instruction is not a legal document while a Will is enforced by law. For this reason you should not include the distribution of any assets in a Letter of Instruction that are not already included in the Will. Your Letter of Instruction may be incorporated to enable understanding of the process better and can include burial arrangements or guidance on the memorial service. The addition of a letter of instruction to your Will could expedite the estate planning process and, in addition, you can rest assured that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you have intended.

Most people do not know how to write a letter of instruction (or may feel uncomfortable doing so) and feel more confident if you enlist the services of a qualified professional, such as AED Attorneys for guidance. We know exactly where discrepancies are most likely to arise and are more than equipped to help you address them. AED Attorneys can assist you in getting the paperwork right, and handling the estate.

AED Attorneys understands that every situation is unique, and although they strive to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate at the time of publishing, it cannot be guaranteed to be without errors or omissions. As a result, AED Attorneys, its employees, independent contractors, associates or third parties will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions in this article, which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.