Families are consumed with grief when a loved one dies, but
unfortunately certain legal and organizational tasks that arise can’t be
ignored or put off for long. But you can ease the burden on your loved ones by
making some simple preparations in addition to a will. To head off bickering
over your personal possessions, consider supplementing your will with a letter
of instruction, an informal document that you can draft yourself, without the
assistance of an attorney, according to AARP, formerly the American Association
of Retired Persons.
Unlike a will, the letter of instruction is not legally
binding, but it can be a helpful road map for your family in your absence, and
can provide more detail than is customary in a will. You might organize such a
letter into three sections: funeral arrangements, financial and personal
affairs, and distribution of personal effects.
Spell It Out
In the section covering funeral arrangements, include a list
of people to notify upon your death, along with their contact information. Make
sure also to include relevant organizations, government agencies such as the
Social Security Administration, and professionals, such as your accountant,
banker and attorney.
Here you should also specify your wishes as to organ or
tissue donation (along with the recipient organization’s contact information),
burial method and any details about your funeral service. If you’ve paid in
advance for funeral arrangements, include that information, as well as the
location of the burial plot or crypt and plot deed. If you wish to be cremated,
indicate where you’d like your ashes placed.
Store this first section in a place where it is readily
accessible, such as a drawer in your home with other personal papers. Make sure
a family member or your executor knows where you keep it. The second section of
the letter should provide up-to-date information for a family member or
executor to put in order your personal financial affairs. Provide contact
information for your employer, attorney, financial planner, insurance agent and
Give the location of personal documents in addition to your
will, such as birth and marriage certificates, diplomas, military papers,
citizenship/naturalization papers and any divorce or adoption papers. Also
specify the location of car registration(s) and title(s).
List it All
List all financial accounts, including retirement accounts,
stockholdings, pension and credit cards. Provide contact information for your
account beneficiaries so that your executor can easily get in touch with them.
Take this as an opportunity to ensure that your beneficiary designations are
current: They will override provisions in your will if the two conflict.
Keep an up-to-date list of information about debts owed to
you, and debts you owe—such as your mortgage, car loans or credit cards. List
your computer passwords and passwords to online accounts, like Amazon.com or
online bill pay. Make sure to update this list often, since passwords can
change frequently. Give the location of safe-deposit or post-office boxes,
including the institution’s address, as well as the location of the key or the
Since it contains sensitive information, keep this second
section of the document in a fireproof lock box in your home so that you can
easily update it. The only people who should have the combination are you and
And third, you can go into greater detail than is customary
in a will in terms of allocating your possessions. Here’s where you can specify
who gets the pots, pans, clothes and books. You might even consider writing
individual notes to family members in addition to the general document.
Some experts recommend sitting down with your
family—ideally, while you’re still in good health—and explaining how you intend
to divide up your assets. For example, you might be agonizing over which child
should inherit your summer home, only to find out during the family discussion
that one child is interested in the home while the other isn’t.
Other experts feel such conversations cause undue stress for
the estate-holder during his or her lifetime. Consider which approach would
work best for your family, and make a conscious decision to follow one strategy
or the other, rather than keeping silent due to inertia.
here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal.