Articles: Put it in writing!
If you are concerned about your family’s future, you should have a valid will executed. But that won’t do much good if it cannot be found or if the terms are not clear. So you may want to draft a letter of instructions to accompany the will.
This is an informal letter giving your heirs information concerning estate matters. It does not carry the same legal weight as a will, but it is important nonetheless. For instance, the letter may specify requests that should be carried out upon death. Copies of the letter should be attached to the original will and another copy placed in an accessible location known to family members.
A letter of instructions may cover a variety of issues, but here are several areas likely to be included:
Explanation of assets: The letter may provide a detailed inventory of assets, especially those possibly overlooked when the estate is settled. This can include checking accounts (with records of passbooks and their locations); safe deposit boxes and their contents; business insurance and accident insurance; retirement plans; Social Security and VA benefits; stocks, bonds and other investments (including the names of brokers and account numbers); information on real estate holdings; and mortgage insurance and life insurance policies. Include the insurance company’s name, your policy number, the name of the agent handling the policy and any relevant papers.
Location of documents: Besides those assets already accounted for, you should also list all your important personal and financial papers. This may prove helpful in settling your affairs. For example, you should disclose the whereabouts of your past federal and state tax returns and the records required for this year’s returns. Don’t forget to list all debts, credit cards and other accounts that may need to be paid off, canceled or transferred to your spouse’s name.
Miscellaneous instructions: Other items of a personal nature may be included in a letter of instructions. Some of these items are: funeral, burial or cremation arrangements; fees that have been paid and cemetery plots selected; names, addresses and telephone numbers of people or organizations to be notified upon death; and other specific instructions for handling personal affairs.
Other information: You might want to state personal preferences and desires in the the letter (e.g., your wishes concerning the education of your children). Finally you may explain the amounts that the heirs can expect to receive as their inheritances and the reasons for the distributions.
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