A letter of instruction: what is it? And why do we need one?

Discover why a letter of instruction is essential for estate planning. Learn how it complements your will, ensuring your final wishes are clearly communicated.

  What Is a Letter of Instruction and Why It’s Essential

Life is full of important decisions, and many of these choices come into sharp focus when we think about the legacy we leave behind. While a will is crucial for outlining the legal distribution of your assets, it often lacks the personal touch needed to guide your loved ones through your final wishes. This is where a letter of instruction comes into play. It's a heartfelt document that can fill in the gaps, offering clarity and comfort to those you leave behind.

By sharing details about your insurance policy, listing your Digital Estate Planning assets, and explaining the reasons behind your decisions, you can prevent misunderstandings and ensure your wishes are honored. Whether you're addressing the care of a pet or providing information for your executor, this document can be an invaluable guide during a challenging time.

Let's delve deeper into why a letter of instruction is essential and how it complements your will, ensuring a comprehensive estate plan that speaks volumes even in your absence.

What Is a Letter of Instruction?

A letter of instruction is a non-legally binding document where you share your final wishes in plain terms. Unlike your will, which uses formal legal language, a letter of instruction explains your decisions and funeral wishes and offers messages to your loved ones.

It's a practical “cheat sheet” for important details not included in your will, such as the location of key documents like your insurance policy, digital inheritance information or Social Security card. It also includes contact information for your estate attorney, or care instructions for your pet.

Letter of Instruction vs. Last Will & Testament: What's the Difference?

Both wills and letters of instruction are crucial components of your estate plan, but they serve different purposes. A last will and testament is a document outlining how you want your property distributed when you pass away without a will. It plays a critical role during probate, the legal process of distributing your estate. If you die without a will, your physical and digital assets will be distributed according to intestate succession laws, not based on your letter of instruction.

In contrast, a letter of instruction isn't a legal document. It's a way to communicate in straightforward language with your loved ones, offering extra details and personal messages. It complements your will by explaining your choices and providing additional information.

Why Do You Need a Letter of Instruction?

A letter of instruction can:

  • Explain Your Final Wishes: Clarify the reasons behind your decisions in your will, like why you left certain assets to specific people or chose a particular guardian for your minor children or pets. This can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts among your loved one.
  • Leave a Message for Loved Ones: Offer words of comfort, advice, or personal messages to individuals or organizations that are important to you. For instance, you might write a special note to your children or explain your connection to a charitable cause.
  • Provide Important Information: Include contact details for your estate attorney or financial advisor, the location of essential documents, and information about personal or financial accounts.
  • Share Your Funeral Wishes: Detail your preferences for your funeral, such as the type of service, music, flowers, and whether you want to be buried or cremated. You can also state if you don't want a funeral or memorial service.

How to Write a Letter of Instruction

There is no set structure for writing a letter of instruction, making it a flexible and personal document. To help you get started, consider including the following:

  • Personal Messages: Leave final messages or advice for your loved ones.
  • Instructions for Your Executor: Provide any special instructions or important information for the person managing your estate.
  • List of Assets and Debts: Help your executor by listing your assets and debts, saving them time and effort.
  • Where to Find Important Documents: Mention the location of your estate plan, property titles, estate planning documents, life insurance policies, and other critical paperwork.
  • Contact Information: Include details for your professional advisors, like your estate attorney, financial advisor, and insurance agent.
  • Funeral or Burial Wishes: Specify your funeral preferences and any charitable donations you would like made in your honor.
  • Care Plans for Minor Children or Pets: Provide instructions for the care of your children or pets, including contact information for their doctor or vet and any special needs they have.
  • Digital Account Information: List your digital assets and the location of your digital estate planning documents.

What Not to Include in Your Letter of Instruction

Since a letter of instruction is not legally binding, avoid including instructions on how you want your assets distributed. Save these for your will. Instead, use the letter to explain and complement your will.

How to Update a Letter of Instruction

Because it's not a legal document, you can update your letter of instruction anytime. It's wise to review your estate planning documents, including your letter of instruction, every three to five years or after major life changes, such as buying a house or having a baby.

Where to Store Your Letter of Instruction

Store your letter of instruction with your other Estate Planning Documents in a safe place, such as:

  • A waterproof, fireproof box or safe
  • A safe deposit box
  • With your will executor
  • With your estate attorney
  • With your local probate court
  • In a digital vault platform like WillBox

Make sure someone knows where your documents are stored to avoid any difficulties for your loved ones.

Protect Your Estate with a Will

A letter of instruction is a valuable tool to share your final wishes and explain the choices in your last will and testament. However, it should be used alongside your will, not as a replacement. A valid will ensures your wishes are legally followed and your loved ones are cared for after you pass away.

For secure document storage and easy access, consider visiting Willbox.me. With Willbox, you can safely store your critical documents, ensuring they are accessible when needed most. Whether documenting your Digital Inheritance or creating a Single Parent Will, Willbox offers a reliable solution.

Frequently Asked Questions About Letters of Instruction

Q1. What is the primary purpose of a letter of instruction?

A letter of instruction is designed to communicate your final wishes, provide important information, and offer personal messages to your loved ones in plain language.

Q2. Can a letter of instruction replace a will?

No, a letter of instruction cannot replace a will. It is not legally binding and should be used to complement your will by providing additional details and explanations.

Q3. Where should I store my letter of instruction?

Store your letter of instruction with your estate planning documents in a safe, accessible place, such as a waterproof, fireproof box, a safe deposit box, or with your will executor or estate planning attorney.

Q4. How does a letter of instruction help with managing Digital Death?

A letter of instruction provides essential information on handling your digital assets after you pass away. It includes login details, account management instructions, and preferences for your online presence. This ensures your digital footprint is managed according to your wishes, offering peace of mind to your loved ones.

Q5. Why is a letter of instruction important for a Single Parent Will?

For single parents, a letter of instruction is crucial as it offers clear guidance on the care and guardianship of minor children. It provides additional details not covered in the single-parent will, such as daily routines, medical needs, and personal messages. This helps ensure your children are cared for in the manner you prefer, easing the transition during a difficult time.

Our service

At WillBox.me, we provide a complete digital estate planning service that helps you organize and manage your digital assets, so they can be accessed and transferred by your loved ones after you pass away or become incapacitated. Our service includes creating a digital inventory, determining who will have access, providing instructions on how to manage your assets, and securely storing your digital estate plan.

Subscribe to our service today, and gain peace of mind that your legacy will be protected.