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The Instruction Letter

Have you ever seen members of a family divided and torn apart after their loved one passes away? Sometimes family members fight with one another over silly simple stuff that could have been avoided if the deceased had expressed his/her wishes in a letter of instruction.

For example, Aunt Mildred had numerous pieces of jewelry that she wanted her favorite niece Stephanie to receive when she passed away. Unfortunately, Aunt Mildred never wrote down her thoughts about Stephanie receiving the jewelry and Aunt Mildred’s only daughter claims she gets the jewelry. Who gets it? How much money will be spent in fighting over who is to receive the jewelry?

The following is a quick example of what topics can be included in the letter of instruction to your family.

1) Funeral Arrangements – List any arrangements and where to locate the documentation of any arrangements you have paid for. If you haven’t made arrangements yet, it’s a great idea to start writing what you would like in terms of a funeral service. Making a list of all of the people, organizations, agencies and professionals (including phone numbers, email and mailing addresses) that should be notified upon your death will be extremely helpful for your family.

2) Financial and Personal Affairs - Make a list of professionals you deal with, i.e. attorney, stockbroker, employer, insurance agent, financial planner, etc. It is also vital that you list your financial accounts (checking, savings, retirement funds, life insurance, real property ownership, etc.) so that your assets aren't lost when you pass away. Such important personal documents like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce, military service papers, etc. should be placed in a secure safe where your family can find them.

3) Distribution of Personal Effects – As in the example above with Aunt Mildred, detailing who should receive your personal possessions (jewelry, furniture, paintings, clothes, golf clubs, etc.) will help minimize confusion or disputes among your family. Also, making sure you have made plans as to who will care for your pet(s) is a good idea.

The best way to think about the instruction letter is that it provides your family with your answers to important decisions you have already made and provides a roadmap where to find other paperwork that will be helpful to those taking care of your personal and financial affairs after you pass away. Your family will be forever grateful that you took the time to prepare an instruction letter for them.

About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years.  Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects.  We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead.  Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.  Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!

This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.

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