When you think of the legal documentation you need to assemble before you die, you most likely think of a will, a trust, a power of attorney, and so on. And while all of these items are important – and a will is extremely important for every adult to have prepared and consistently updated – it can also be helpful to have a “letter of instructions” prepared for your executor, and ideally created in conjunction with your will and with the assistance of your estate planning attorney.
Defining a Letter of Instructions in California Estate Planning
A letter of instructions is not legally required for your estate, and it does not require the same legal formalities as are associated with a will or testamentary trust, but it can accomplish several major goals:
- Ensuring that your will is distributed properly
- Preventing excess delay and costs (which will come out of your estate) that prevent your beneficiaries from receiving their timely and full gifts as you intended
- Providing any special instructions to your executor which are important to how you want your affairs to be handled, but which you do not want to be on full display in your will
Although a letter of instructions is, again, not necessarily a legal document, your estate planning attorney can help you draft it (or draft it on your behalf) to ensure that it comprehensively and clearly does facilitate all of the legal and non-legal aims that you wish to accomplish after you have passed.
Types of Matters That Can Be Addressed in Your Letter of Instructions
To be clear, an executor (or “personal representative”) will be in charge of a number of important tasks in taking care of your estate, namely: 1) paying off any remaining creditors after your death; and 2) distributing your assets in accordance with your will.
These can both be deeply complex tasks, especially when the executor is not intimately familiar with your financial affairs, your property, or the identity or location of your beneficiaries. To give a very simple example, if you make a gift in your will of “my diamond necklace to Jane Smith,” your executor will need to know: 1) Which diamond necklace? 2) Where is it located? 3) Which Jane Smith?; and 4) Where is Jane Smith located and how can I reach her?
By creating a letter of instructions which is updated and kept safely for your executor, you can provide specific instructions for him or her on a wide range of issues, including:
- The phone numbers and addresses for named beneficiaries
- The existence of outstanding debts, including instructions for locating paperwork (e.g. credit card account information)
- Specific descriptions and locations for property named in your will (e.g. safety deposit boxes, with instructions for accessing them)
- Location of bank accounts, retirement holdings, insurance policies, etc.
- Location of titles for real estate and vehicles and other property documentation
- Passwords for accounts and contact information for accounts
- Instructions regarding your digital assets
- Funeral arrangements
- Burial arrangements
- Any other special instructions you would like to leave
By working with your estate planning professional to create your letters of instruction, you can obtain further assurance that your beneficiaries will be taken care of as you intended and that all appropriate arrangements are made and carried out ahead of time.
Create Your Letter of Instructions With a Pasadena Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning and probate attorney Christopher B. Johnson, located in Pasadena, California, has years of experience in all aspects of estate planning, and works with clients from all walks of life to create estate planning tools that reflect their needs and those of their beneficiaries. To request an immediate consultation, contact him today at (877) 755-9178.