Put Pen to Paper

Posted On: November 8th 2018

A letter of instruction and a mission statement add clarity to an estate plan

If you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know what an upsetting and sometimes confusing time the aftermath can be. Legally binding documents, such as a will or living trust, spell out your final wishes. But including a letter of instruction and a mission statement in your estate plan can go even further to help your family through a difficult period.

Letter of instruction

Begin your letter of instruction by stating the location of your will or living trust. Then create an inventory of all your assets and include their location, any account numbers and relevant contact information. This may include, but isn’t necessarily limited to, the following items:

Begin your letter of instruction by stating the location of your will or living trust. Then create an inventory of all your assets and include their location, any account numbers and relevant contact information. This may include, but isn’t necessarily limited to, the following items:

  • Checking and savings accounts,
  • Retirement plans and IRAs,
  • Health and accident insurance plans,
  • Business insurance,
  • Life and disability income insurance,
  • Records of Social Security and VA benefits,
  • Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments,
  • Safe deposit boxes and vaults and their contents,
  • Information on real estate holdings,
  • Information on credit cards, loans and debts,
  • Social Security number and birth certificate,
  • Passports and other identification papers,
  • Copies of tax returns,
  • Any divorce or citizenship papers, and
  • Any tangible assets not readily found.

The contact information should include the names, phone numbers and addresses (including emails) of the professionals handling your financial accounts and paperwork, such as an attorney, CPA, banker, life insurance agent and stockbroker. Also, list the beneficiaries of retirement plans, IRAs and insurance policies and their contact information.

And don’t forget the location of the items and any passwords, PINs or other information needed: Your heirs can’t access a safe without the key or combination, nor will they be able to access your information online.

Remember that a letter of instruction is more than just a listing of assets and their locations. Typically, it will include other items of a personal nature, such as funeral, burial or cremation arrangements and accounting of fees paid for cemetery plots or mausoleums. Also important to add are the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people and organizations to be notified upon death, and specific instructions for handling personal and financial affairs after you’re gone.

The letter can expand on instructions in a living will or other health care directive. For example, it might provide additional details about the decision for being taken off life support systems. It may also cover charitable contributions you wish to be made after death or how property should be donated to charity. Mission statement

Many people today are moving away from a rules-based approach to estate planning and embracing a principles-based approach. Rather than conditioning a child’s inheritance on a rigid list of “acceptable” behaviors, for example, a principles-based approach allows greater flexibility for trustees and others to make decisions based on the values you wish to promote.

A family mission statement can be an invaluable tool for defining and communicating these principles and values. Because each family is different, there’s no cookie-cutter formula for drafting this document. The most important thing is for the statement to define your family’s shared values, whatever they may be. Articulate your wishes through clear writing

Lending your voice in the form of a letter of intention or a mission statement can be a source of comfort and clarification to grieving loved ones after your death. As with your other estate planning documents, be sure to review your letter or mission statement periodically and make revisions as necessary.

© 2018