One of the more potentially useful estate planning documents available today is the letter of instruction. Unlike many other estate planning tools, letters of instruction do not have to meet specific legal requirements, because they are not legally enforceable tools. While it might seem strange that an estate planning attorney would recommend including a non-enforceable tool as a key part of your estate plan, letters of instruction have a specific, and very practical, purpose. Today, we are going to take a look at the letter of instruction, what it is, what it does, and why your estate plan should probably include one.
What is a letter of instruction?
A letter of instruction is an informal estate planning tool that conveys specific information to your estate administrator.
After you die, someone will have to take over managing the property you leave behind. This person is usually known as an estate administrator, but also an executor or personal representative. Though the administrator will have to carry out the wishes you express in your last will and testament, revocable living trust, or other estate planning tools, those tools might not contain everything the administrator needs.
This is where the letter of instruction comes in. The letter will inform the administrator of important details about your estate, such as the location of important documents, a summary of your financial affairs, the location of any safe deposit boxes, as well as the contact information for your relatives or other important people.
Letters of instruction can also include passwords to email or online accounts, a list of personal assets you want distributed after your death, and nearly anything else you think your estate administrator should know. You can also include more personal information, such as any wishes about funeral arrangements, or even personal statements and messages you want to pass to friends, family, loved ones.
What role does a letter of instruction play?
As we mentioned, a letter of instruction is not really a legally enforceable estate planning tool. It’s an informal device, and one that, if ever asked to do so, a court will not enforce.
This doesn’t mean, however, that letters of instruction are useless. In fact, because they are not legally enforceable and don’t have to comply with specific legal standards, they are much more flexible than other tools, such as a last will and testament. If you choose to include a letter of instruction with your estate plan, you can update it whenever you choose. Even though your estate administrator will not have the option of asking the court to enforce anything you express in the letter alone, it is nevertheless a practical and useful tool to have.