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Retirement

Letter of Instruction, Explained

What song do you want played at your funeral?

How often does Bailey (your beloved golden retriever) take his vitamins?

Those are some strange questions to ask. But trust us, the answers will be really important to your loved ones when you’re not here to answer them anymore. Fortunately, these are the kinds of questions you can answer in a letter of instruction. It’s not legally binding like a will is—but still, it matters. A lot.

Let’s walk through what a letter of instruction can include and some easy tips for writing one.

What Is a Letter of Instruction?

A letter of instruction (aka a letter of intent) is an informal document where you can provide personal instructions that aren’t included in your will. The letter of instruction has no legal authority, but it can make things easier on your family by explicitly stating your special wishes.

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Because it’s not a legal document, you can write and update your letter of instruction however you want—it could even be handwritten on a piece of notebook paper. But make sure it’s easily accessible and someone like your executor knows where it is.

What Does a Letter of Instruction Include?

Your letter of instruction should include add-on directions for anything you said in your will. Think of it as step-by-step instructions for the person settling your estate, written without all the legal jargon wills sometimes have. What you say and how you say it are completely up to you.

For example, suppose you mentioned your safety deposit box in your will. Does anyone know where the key is besides you? Your letter of instruction is a perfect opportunity to say something like, “My safety deposit key is in the top-left drawer of the desk in my home office. I use that drawer as my legacy drawer for storing important items.”

Or if you have specific contact details for the people (lawyers, bankers, brokers, doctors, etc.) who’ve been handling your affairs, use the letter of instruction to specify how to get in touch with them.

Or maybe you have some people in mind (that you didn’t name in your will) who you want to give items of yours that are sentimental but not necessarily valuable.

Here are more examples of what you could include:

  • Instructions for your social media accounts
  • Guidance to your heirs about how to use the money you’re leaving them
  • Direction to the guardians of your children
  • Wording suggestions for your obituary
  • Preferred charities for donations
  • Your account passwords and PIN numbers
  • Legal and financial documents
  • The contact information of any debtors, such as mortgages, credit cards and car loans
  • Direction about the clothes you want to be buried in
  • A list of the songs you want played at your funeral
  • A list of all financial account beneficiaries or other estate beneficiaries and their contact information, if necessary
  • Details about and contact information for any and all insurance coverage, especially life insurance
  • Instructions for the care and placement of any pets (if not included in your will)

Now let’s talk about how to actually write the letter.

How to Write a Letter of Instruction

Remember, a letter of instruction isn’t legally enforceable—you can’t really mess it up—so don’t worry about the format. If there’s ever a conflict between your letter of instruction and your will, your will wins.

The only thing you absolutely should include is the date. If you don’t, you’re leaving the door open for future arguments.

Mama Bear Legal Forms makes it super easy to put your letter together. You can create a letter of instruction at the same time you’re writing your will. All names, dates and contact information will be connected between the two documents.

Having all documents (your will, your letter of instruction, and any other estate planning papers) available in one place is also a great way to keep everything in sync. Brilliant!

Have a Plan in Mind?

Don’t leave this world without creating a letter of instruction with a list of all those personal details you’ve been keeping to yourself. Your loved ones will want to know—among other things—who’s going to give your dog Bailey his vitamins.

Mama Bear Legal Forms makes it easy to create a letter of instruction and a legal will at the same time. This is a great opportunity to check multiple items off your to-do list.

Get started today!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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