Letter of last instruction
A letter of last instruction is a document containing important information and after-death wishes that a person writes to the executor of their will or their family members. This article lists some items that a letter of last instruction should contain, and then explains how to create one.
What is a letter of last instruction?
A letter of last instruction, also known simply as a letter of instruction, is a document containing important information and after-death wishes that a person writes to the executor of their will or their family members. It usually contains important “housekeeping” information that the will’s executor will need, such as a list of the person’s contacts, along with directions and messages covering a range of topics, from the person’s wishes for the funeral service to statements of personal belief.
The letter can be used to talk about desires for medical treatment and care with more detail and explanation than a living will or other advance directives have room for. It can also include expressions of the person’s beliefs, values, and ideals, or individualized messages for loved ones. Since this is not a legal document, anything can go in it. A letter of last instruction is a useful addition to legal documents such as a will and advance directives.
What “housekeeping” items go in a letter of last instruction?
Some recommended housekeeping items are a list of personal contacts, usernames and passwords, important financial information, and the location of important legal forms and papers.
A list of personal contacts
This list should include the names, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and email addresses of anyone the person wants notified of their death. These could be relatives, friends, co-workers, fellow club and gym members, church officials, etc.
Usernames and passwords
These should include all the information needed to allow the executor of the will to access the person’s laptop, desktop, and phone, bank accounts, online shopping and subscriptions, and so on.
Important financial information
Some items in this list are the bank-account numbers, mortgage deeds, pension-fund numbers, life-insurance policy numbers, investment information such as the number on stocks and bonds, any other insurance information (for example, home and car insurance), the location of recent tax returns, and the name and numbers of all credit cards (including ones rarely or never used).
The location of important legal forms and papers
The locations of important legal forms and papers should be specific, so that the documents are easy for the executor of the will or other family members to find. These should include birth and marriage certificates, the last will and testament, power of attorney documents, living will, naturalization papers, school diplomas, a list of personal property, and a list of the contents of any safety-deposit boxes.
What after-death instructions go in a letter of last instruction?
After-death instructions often include a list of the first things family members should do after the person dies, a list of beneficiaries and explanation of any unusual provisions in the will, instructions for pets, and wishes for the funeral or memorial service.
A list of the first things family members need to do after the person dies
These may include calling immediate family, making arrangements with the funeral home, notifying lawyers and the Social Security office, notifying the bank, and requesting certified copies of the death certificate.
A list of beneficiaries and explanations of any unusual provisions in the will and testament
Even for a person with a will, it can be useful to make a simple list stating who will receive what, especially for items with little monetary value. For example, a granddaughter might want to have a special book that her grandfather read to her when she was little. If anyone has had conditions put on their inheritance, or if there is any other element in the will that might be questioned, the letter of last instruction is a good place to write out an explanation. It is important for the beneficiaries in the letter of last instruction to be the same as in the will, to avoid confusion.
Instructions and the preferred new owner(s) for pets
There should be instructions for the pet’s feeding routine and general care. In addition, it should be noted who the person wants to be their new owner.
Wishes for the funeral and memorial service
These should be detailed and specific, including wishes for music, clothing, obituary content, charity donations in lieu of flowers, etc. The letter should also state whether the person wants their organs donated, how they want their remains disposed of (for example, buried or cremated).
How are letters of last instruction created?
A letter of last instruction can simply be written with pen and paper or typed into a word processing program. There are also many online forms, lists, and worksheets that can be filled out. Some people write the document as a letter, addressing it to the executor of their will, their spouse, or all their family and friends.
Once the letter is written, it should be signed, dated, and kept in a safe place, such as with other estate-planning documents (will and testament, powers of attorney documents, etc.). It is recommended that the person review the letter of last instruction every year or whenever there is a major life change, such as a birth, death, marriage, or divorce.
Decisions related to aging and the end of life
Overview of estate plans
Overview of legal documents
Will and testament