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What is a letter of instruction and do I need one?

Creating an estate plan can include documents that address your end of life plans as well as what you want your loved ones to receive after you pass away. Some estate plans are incredibly simple, while others can be very complex.

No matter what your situation, some documents can be consistent no matter what your plans include. While it is not necessary, a letter of instruction can help your loved ones understand your intentions after you pass away.

Here’s an overview of what a letter of instruction adds to your estate plan.

Isn’t it the same as a will?

Both a will and a letter of instruction (also known as a letter of intent) are, in some regards, an expression of what you want for your assets and your loved ones when you pass away. The two documents, however, are quite different.

A letter of instruction is not legally binding. It is meant to go with the other documents in your estate plan to give your loved ones guidance about your wishes. It can also provide instructions for accessing specific assets or accounts.

It doesn’t stand alone

While a letter of instruction could provide some of the same information as a will or some of your other estate plan documents, it is not a replacement for any of them. If a letter of instruction is the only document in your estate plan, a probate court could still view you as having died intestate (without a will).

A letter of instruction is supposed to be a supplement. Think of it as a cover letter that gives extra information about the other estate plan documents. If you have specific burial wishes or some accounts that are difficult to access, a letter of instruction might be the perfect place to add that information.

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