Can a Letter of Instruction Benefit My Family?

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A letter of instruction allows you to provide helpful information to those handling your estate.

You have your estate plan in place.

The documents created by your estate planning attorney provide the courts or trustees with the essential instructions for the administration and distribution of your assets.

Even so, you have thought of additional information to pass on to your executor or trustee.

According to a recent Times Herald-Record article titled “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information,” you may want to consider a letter of instruction.

A letter of instruction allows your executor and family with valuable information.
You may want to supplement your estate plan with a letter of instruction.

What is a letter of instruction?

Think of it as filling in all of the details you could not include in your estate plan, especially those details that may change over time.

What might you include?

Do you have minor children?

Sort of like expanded “refrigerator notes” you leave for a babysitter when leaving for an evening out, your letter can provide detailed instructions to guide the guardians (back up parents) when rearing your children to adulthood.

Parents often leave money in a trust for the “health, education, maintenance, and support” of their minor children.

By including a letter of instruction, you can give more direction as to how these funds should be used and applied.

Those who own art or other collectibles can include an inventory of those items in their letter of instruction, to include provenance where appropriate.

You can also include the name of a trusted appraiser.

Doing so can help your executor sell the items on behalf of your estate for their appraised value.

Spoiler alert: buyers at estate auctions are looking for “treasures” being sold in ignorance of their true value.

Do you have pets?

You should include them in your estate plan.

This is often done through a pet trust.

Providing information for their next caretakers can help the caretakers better understand the personalities, dislikes, likes, and quirks of your pets.

If you have a loved one who has special needs, a letter of instruction can be extremely helpful and should contain the nature of the disability, medications, daily routines, fears, and preferred activities.

This is often included with a Special Needs Trust and is more commonly known as a “Letter of Intent” in that context.

Another function of a letter of instruction is providing the location of important documents, directions when paying bills, who should be notified of your death, and how to maintain your home.

By taking time to create a letter of instruction, you can leave your executor, trustee, and loved ones with information essential to carrying out your wishes.

Once the letter is created, remember to update it from time to time.

After all, the “only constant is change” (Heraclitus).

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 8, 2020) “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information”