You’ll want to include as much detail as possible. For example, if something is in your safe deposit box, tell what bank, the box number, and where the key is located. If you have important documents on your computer, what are the file names or passwords? A detailed letter will save your administrator a lot of time and trouble—and reduce fees that the accountant or attorney may charge your estate. This means more money for your family.
Part III: Personal Effects
The third part of your letter helps eliminate family feuds over the relatives and friends you want to have your personal items. We all have heard stories of family fights erupting over how to divide family pictures, necklaces, the stamp collection, or the wedding gift from Uncle Bill. The items may not have monetary value, but getting them to the right person can make a big difference to you—and to them. If you want to make sure that your granddaughter gets the pearl necklace you got for your high school graduation, or you have already promised your best friend that she gets your figurine collection, put your wishes in your letter. Be sure to leave instructions about care for your pets.
Make it personal, too. You can use your letter to send important messages to your survivors. You might include special hopes you have for your grandchildren’s education, or the important values you want to pass on. This could be the place you tell them something you never got around to saying. It can be whatever you want it to be.
You’ll want to write your letter to the person most likely to take over your accounts if you become unable to manage your own financial affairs or after you die. This could be your spouse, adult child or other relative, your attorney, or the person you have selected to administer your estate.
Your wishes can change over time. It is easy to revisit your instructions every couple of years or when your circumstances change. You don’t have to follow any legal format. The letter can be handwritten or on your computer. Always sign and date each revision to eliminate confusion over which is your most current statement.
You’ll want to make several copies. Keep one with your will and another in a place your family would look first. Don’t keep the document a secret! And don’t put it in your safe deposit box, where it might be difficult to reach.
Those who come after you will be thankful for your thoughtfulness and foresight in preparing the letter of instruction. You will ease the stress of your loved ones at a difficult time, make sure that nothing is “lost,” and give yourself peace of mind that your wishes are known.