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Beyond your Will: A Letter of Instruction

Letter of Instruction

Many people view their will as the final document they need in life.  From a legal perspective, that’s true.  One of the most often overlooked things you can do and leave behind for your loved ones is a letter of instruction. 

The letter of Instruction

A letter of instruction is not a legally binding document.  It’s informal and meant to provide those you’ve left behind important information about any personal and financial matters that need to be addressed.  

The letter of instruction should be easy to change and update and address several common concerns of those left behind.  

Important documents and financial papers

First things first.  You need to tell everyone where you will is in the letter.  You’ll also want to disclose where your power of attorney documents, living wills and medical directives.  Also, leave birth certificates, info in SSI benefits, any marriage licenses that may be applicable and if necessary, divorce documents. 

Next,  you’ll want to list all of your assets and their locations.  If you have a financial advisor, they should have these items for your loved ones.  If not, leave bank account numbers, investment account numbers and locations, info on retirement accounts like 403b, IRA or 401k accounts. You’ll also want to list any health insurance plans you have, information on your business if you’re self employed, info on any life insurance or disability policies and if you’re a veteran, leave information pertaining to your service and any benefits that come in because of that service. 

Finally, list all of your liabilities, especially ones your family may not know about.  The last thing you want is for your family to get dragged into litigation or get hit with surprise bills. 

Final Arrangements 

The letter should also include details about your desired funeral arrangements.  How do you wish to have your body disposed of? Burial, cremation, composting (apparently that’s a thing), shot off in a rocket? Your family needs to know.  Also, what kind of service do you want? Who do you want to preside over it? Is there any special music you’d like played? Where do you even want the service to be?

Additionally, make a list of anyone you would want notified of your passing and include contact information if possible.  If you would rather people donate in your memory list that as well, along with those charities you’d prefer. 

Passwords and Digital Information

Almost everyone has an online presence now.  It’s important for your family to know where you have accounts and what you want done with them.  Leave user names, passwords and any other information you’ll likely need to access your online life.  Also, leave instructions for social media pages and how you wish for them to be handled after you’re gone.  

Personal items

One of the biggest points of contention that occur after someone’s death is the disposal of small personal items.  Do you want your niece to get your China set? What about your silver?  Do you want to leave your wedding ring to your daughter or son? What about other sentimental items that have little monetary value but mean the world to people?  Our recommendation is to always pass these items along before you pass, it allows you to see the person you love enjoy the item and it keeps quarrels down after you’ve gone.  However, should you choose not to pass it along before you pass, make sure to leave a mention as to who should get what when the time comes.  

Last but not least

A Letter of Instruction can offer you and your family peace and guidance during a difficult time.  It’s hard to write such a letter but your family will thank you if you do.  I know when my own grandmother passed, having this type of letter made dealing with the emotions of the time so much easier on everyone involved.  

Once you get started, you may find that the letter writes itself, but take the step and get started.  If you’re not sure about the status of your estate, give us a call and let us walk you through the process of creating an estate planning package.  Our estate planning package will give you and your family peace and comfort during difficult times and make your final wishes known. 

Responsibilities Abound, Choose Wisely

Procrastinators usually face problems.  The scramble to get things done in a timely manner. Often, they make less than optimal decisions.  This is especially true of people who procrastinate on the issue of estate planning.  

This type of procrastination generally can’t be turned in late because….well, you’re probably dead or incapacitated.  If you don’t take the time to plan properly now, it can cost your family big time in the future.  This is exceedingly true when it comes to choosing the right executor to handle your affairs after your passing. 

Responsibilities Abound

Most people think that being an executor is an easy job.  There truly isn’t much to it, or so they reason in their head.  In reality, it’s quite the opposite. 

Executors have numerous significant responsibilities.  They can collect from debtors, inventorying the assets of the estate and protecting them, filing estate tax returns and paying related taxes, dealing with creditors, handling investment decisions and liquidating and distributing assets and property to beneficiaries.  

So, who should you choose as your executor? Most people just assume a family member of a close friend will do it. However, that’s not always a safe assumption.  As this article from Kiplinger states, you need to talk to your potential executors and make sure they’re willing to take on the task AND they’re actually up to it.  

Things you should consider before naming an executor:

  • Will this person be too grief stricken at your passing to do the job effectively?
  • Does this person stand to gain from your will and if so, will that be a conflict of interest?
  • If the previous statement applies, do you think that it will lead to disputes between family members and/or other beneficiaries of the estate?
  • Is your potential executor a trustworthy person with a good knowledge of financial best practices?
  • If this person needs to hire professionals, will they be professionals you would trust?

To avoid these risks, we always recommend that you examine your potential executors carefully before giving them these kinds of responsibilities.  If you believe that your potential executors lack the financial acuity or moral authority to handle your estate you may need to look elsewhere to find a good executor, even if you believe you may end up hurting some feelings.  

In the end, having a plan is the key ingredient to estate planning.  However, to hone your estate plan and ensure it is successful in distributing the assets in a way that puts you at peace, you need to put in the extra leg work to make sure you have a good executor or team of executors to handle your final wishes.

When you’re ready to get started with your estate plan, give us a call.  We’ve helped thousands of people put together a solid basic estate plan and we’re ready to do the same for you.  

Estate Planning Just Can’t Wait

We get it, Estate Planning is scary. Creating what is known as an estate plan is a very important aspect of everyone’s life that they will need to undertake at some point.  Not only will it give you peace of mind, it will allow those you leave behind to know for sure what your final wishes are so they aren’t left guessing in a time of grief and heartache.  Beyond knowing your final wishes, it will also allow your assets to be distributed according to your wishes upon your death. Regardless of how important this process is, significant numbers of people do not have an estate plan, often making excuses about why they don’t need thinks like a will, a power of attorney and a healthcare directive.

One of the biggest excuses people have for not having a plan in place is thinking that they don’t have enough money, assets and prized personal belongings to warrant that kind of planning.  Even if you all you have is the roof over your head and the clothes on your back, you still need a power of attorney or health care directive so that your loved ones are able to make the kinds of healthcare and financial decisions you would want in the event you are unable to do so yourself.

Another excuse people make is the belief that having a joint bank account with your children or others is a good means of transferring that particular asset upon your passing.  The cold hard truth of that is, unless you only have one child you will have a very difficult time separating accounts equally for your children. This can leave hurt feelings amongst your heirs and even more trouble in life if you are incapacitated and unable to manage your finances.

Another reason people don’t have an estate plan is that they believe that it simply costs too much.  The truth of the matter is, nothing is potentially more expensive than dying without a will.  The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove offer a free, no pressure consultation to help clients understand how important and how easy it is to implement a proper estate plan.  Our fees are among the most competitive, at times, even less expensive than online tools you pay for. Furthermore, the filing fees at probate courts are usually minimal and only enough to keep the programs running in the future.  

Finally, most people simply state that they just haven’t gotten around to is and one day they will get it done.  Believe me, we understand. One our own attorneys put off proper estate planning until the death of a loved one prompted them to take action.  It NEVER pays to wait around, especially with something as important as your estate planning. Your estate plan allows loved ones to make decisions with peace of mind, knowing your wishes and desires. It also allows you to distribute your assets in ways that you deem fit, making sure that only those you deem worth inherit your most prized possessions.

Considering the consequences of not having an estate plan for our loved ones should we pass before making these plans should provide more than enough motivation to take the first steps of implementing an effective and meaningful plan. The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove understand how hard it is to make that first step.  We want you to feel comfortable and understand what your options are. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation where we can discuss your estate planning goals.  

Three Parts of a Basic Estate Plan

Every person, no matter how significant they may feel their assets are, absolutely needs to have a well thought out estate plan that covers three very basic documents that will serve your best interests and make the lives of those you care about that much easier when the time comes. The three main planning instruments you should have include a durable power of attorney, a health care directive, and a last will and testament. These instruments will cover an array of subjects in our lives and our family’s lives after we pass away and should be taken very seriously, regardless of what you believe you may leave behind.

Power of Attorney

 

The first thing you need to include in your estate plan will be a power of attorney. This allows you to designate a person of your choosing to manage your property, assets, and finances during your life in the event you are incapacitated and unable to act in your own interest. A power of attorney carries a lot of weight and gives someone almost complete control of your financial life and should be vested in a trusted individual you can be sure will act solely in your best interest should a time come where you can’t handle these situations yourself.

Healthcare Directive

 

The second thing you should look into is a health care directive. A healthcare directive is essentially a type of a power of attorney that deals only with health care decisions. A healthcare directive allows you to appoint a trusted person to direct your medical care and make important end of life decisions should you be unable to.

 

Last Will and Testament

The third and most essential piece of estate planning is your last will and testament. A last will and testament is the most basic mechanism used to transfer property to family and friends upon our death. There are numerous other ways to pass along our assets and other parts of our estates, including various forms of trusts, a last will and testament is still necessary to direct our loved ones whom we leave behind about our final wishes including whether we wish to be buried, cremated or shot off into space, types of memorial services and other ways in which we want to be remembered.

It is important to understand that these are just the essentials of an estate plan and what you will ultimately need will vary depending on what your leave behind and who you wish to leave it to. Significant assets like large bank and investments accounts, your home or other real estate assets, your business, and other valuables like expensive jewelry or art may need even more extensive estate planning that satisfies everything from family dynamics and business partners to tax and legal considerations.

If you find that your basic estate planning is not where you want it to be, schedule a no pressure, complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys today so we can go over your wishes and create a basic estate plan that will leave you with peace of mind and your family with valuable information about your wants and desires when the unthinkable happens.