A Map to Guide Your Family

If you have a legal will, you’ve taken an important step to help your family know your wishes and make appropriate decisions. But a will does not address all the complicated matters of your financial life.

You may have multiple bank, retirement, and investment accounts; insurance policies; a safe-deposit box; and more. You have bills to pay and perhaps a mortgage or other outstanding loans. And then there are the people you work with and depend on for financial and legal matters.

Now think for a moment about how your family would navigate this financial sea when you are gone. A letter of instruction can provide a map to guide your loved ones. Unlike a will, a letter of instruction has no formal legal status, so you can write it any way you choose. But it could be just as important to help your heirs settle your estate and move forward with their lives.

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Here are some issues you may want to address.

Financial accounts and account numbers, including online user names and passwords. If you prefer not to write down user names or passwords, the executor of your estate should be able to access accounts with the account numbers and your Social Security number.

List of documents and their locations, including (but not limited to) your will, insurance policies, tax returns, bank and investment account documents, real estate deeds and mortgage documents, vehicle titles, Social Security and Medicare cards, marriage and/or divorce papers, and birth certificate.

Contact information for professionals who handle your financial and legal affairs, such as your attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, and accountant. Also include others who may be helpful, such as a business partner or trusted friend.

Bills and creditors, including when payments are due and other pertinent information, such as loan terms and balances as of the date of the letter.

Your final wishes for burial or cremation, a funeral or memorial service, organ donation, and charitable contributions in your memory.

You might also include more personal thoughts or life lessons that you want to pass on, or you could write a separate letter. Keep your letter of instruction in a safe, yet accessible place and tell your loved ones where it can be found. It might be wise to give a copy of the letter to the executor of your estate and other trusted friends or advisors.

Be sure to review the letter regularly and update it as appropriate. Your heirs will thank you for taking the time to prepare.

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