Doing Your Heirs a Simple Favor Before You Die

The passing of a loved one is never easy for friends and family, but it can be even more difficult if the survivors do not have the information they need to make decisions and take care of final arrangements.  Several years ago, my brother passed away quite suddenly on the other side of the nation.  He had a will and life insurance with the beneficiary designation as his girlfriend.  He had also made his girlfriend the executor of his will.

So you would think that everything was just fine right?  Well not really.  His girlfriend didn’t know him well enough and wasn’t sure where all the important papers were.  She couldn’t adequately explain my brother’s final wishes nor plan a funeral for him because she didn’t know if he wanted to be cremated or buried.  It was an emotional mess for her and my family as we tried to grieve as well as determine what he would have wanted to have done after he died.

His will and life insurance documents were extremely important, but an accompanying Letter of Instruction would have really helped.  This letter of instruction is not a legal document, yet he could have provided all the details and guidance for both his personal and financial matters necessary to all the questions that we had about his final wishes.

Here are some topics to consider addressing in the letter.

  • People to contact such as attorneys, financial professionals, insurance agents, and accountants.
  • The location of important documents, including your will, insurance policies, birth certificate, marriage and/or divorce papers, Social Security and Medicare cards, tax returns, vehicle titles, and deeds to real property.
  • Your wishes for final arrangements such as a memorial or funeral service and organ donation.
  • Information on your bank and retirement accounts, including account numbers, PINs, and passwords.
  • A list of creditors and the location of bills.
  • A description of any important information to be found on your computer, including login IDs and passwords.

The Letter of Instruction doesn’t have to written in in legal fashion.  It can even be hand written.  You can even write you own obituary for yourself if you want.   Store your letter in a safe, yet accessible place; tell your loved ones where they can find it; and give copies to the executor of your estate and other trusted individuals. Because some information in the letter may change over time updating it regularly.

I have no idea why my brother never wrote a letter of instruction.  Maybe he was like a lot of us, putting off thinking about our own mortality.  But it sure would have been helpful if he had. 

Your Own Family Template

Because of all the long and emotional conversations my family had to conduct about his final wishes, we’ve put together a template that covers the above points as well other discussion points that may help your family in your own letter of instruction.  It may be beneficial to include this template in your own letter of instructions.  Click here to download.


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