What is a Letter of Instruction?

In order to simplify the settlement of your affairs upon your death, you should consider preparing a Letter of Instruction.

A Letter of Instruction has two purposes.

The first purpose is to clearly state your desires regarding funeral services and bodily disposition. Your Letter of Instruction therefore states whether you wish to be cremated or buried. It also states your preference as to funeral home, type of service and the disposition of your remains.

The second purpose of a Letter of Instruction is to assist in identifying and locating your assets, financial accounts, and any creditor obligations you may have.

Unfortunately, if you do not have a Letter of Instruction your family may have great difficulty in indentifying and locating your assets, financial accounts, and creditor obligations.

Likewise, if you do not have a Letter of Instruction, your family may need to utilize guesswork as to your funeral service and bodily disposition preferences.

It is not unusual to hear of individuals who have instead stated funeral service and bodily disposition preferences in their Last Will and Testament. Unfortunately, this can be problematic, as your Last Will and Testament may not be found or reviewed until after your family has completed your funeral services.

A Letter of Instruction is not generally prepared by an attorney. Rather, it is a simple letter which is prepared by you in the privacy of your home. It is either provided to your family in advance of your death or placed at a location where it will be readily found upon your death.

There are not any specific legal requirements for a Letter of Instruction. It does not need to be signed, witnessed or notarized. It is simply a written communication, directed to your family or friends which educates them as to your burial intentions and which assists them in identifying and locating your assets and your financial obligations.

A Letter of Instruction should not be confused with a Last Will and Testament. Rather the primary purpose of a Last Will and Testament is to distribute your assets upon your death. A Letter of Instruction, on the other hand, does not distribute assets.

Likewise, it is not a substitute for your Living Will or your Medical Power of Attorney. Rather, your medical treatment and end-of-life desires should be stated in a separate Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney.

Lastly, your Letter of Instruction is also not a substitute for your Financial Power of Attorney. Instead, a separate Financial Power of Attorney should be prepared naming one or more individuals to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so in advance of your death.

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