Creating a comprehensive estate plan usually includes a variety of documents that cite your wishes if you should die or become incapacitated. The documents include a will that outlines beneficiary designations, health care and durable powers of attorney, appointment of guardianship of minor children, and an advance health care directive.
Another document that many people include in their estate plan is a letter of instruction (LOI), also called a letter of intent. It provides your executor with important information about your assets and personal information that usually isn’t included in your other estate planning documents, especially not in the will itself. The LOI in your estate plan benefits not only your executor but also your beneficiaries. Our skilled New York estate planning attorneys can help write your important documents, including an LOI.
Points of a Letter of Instruction
After you pass away, your executor handles the distribution of your assets and closes out your estate.
This is often a big job, but you can make things easier by providing specific information in an LOI to help them. You can think of an LOI as a crib sheet, a cheat sheet, or even a roadmap to manage your estate. It’s also a place to communicate personal messages to your family, express your wishes regarding funeral arrangements, and/or discuss the distribution decisions you’ve made about sentimental items that aren’t considered assets. Because an LOI isn’t a legally binding document, you can include any last wishes or thoughts—the letter is yours to make as you want.
What to Include in Your LOI
Each individual's circumstances are different, of course, but here are certain types of information you might need to include in your LOI.
Comprehensive List of Everything You Own
To assist your executor, it’s helpful to include an inventory of your assets and their location. It’s especially important to provide account numbers and where to locate safe deposit keys, deeds, and titles. This list might include:
- Vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, RVs, boats, jet skis, bicycles, scooters, and work vehicles
- Checking and savings accounts
- Retirement and investment accounts
- Stocks and bonds
- All real estate holdings: homes, rental properties, and any commercial properties
- Personal property, including jewelry, collectibles, artwork, electronics, guns, tools, books
Outline of Debts
Because your estate executor will also manage your debts, they may need to continue paying certain monthly bills or pay off debt balances such as:
- Mortgages, home equity loans
- Car loans
- Credit card balances
Also, if you have home, vehicle, and health insurance, your executor may need to cancel these policies, so any information you provide in your LOI assists in this process, including:
- The name of the insurance company
- Details about the policy
- The amount of the policy
- The designated beneficiary
Location of Important Documents
It’s likely that you have important documents stored in a home safe, locked filing cabinet, or a bank safe deposit box. Your executor and loved ones need these documents when handling your estate. If you don’t provide the location of these documents, the probate process can be long and complicated. Your important documents may include:
- Marriage and birth certificates
- Property deeds and vehicle titles
- Tax documents
- Estate planning documents, including a will
- Social security card, passport, and passwords to digital information
Information for Important Contacts
Your executor and loved ones might not know the people you’ve dealt with over the years, but information about how to reach them is beneficial when managing your estate. Your LOI should detail contact information for:
- Financial advisors
- Insurance agents