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Your last will and testament can convey your wishes for your estate after your death, but it may not be effective in communicating everything you want your heirs to know. This is why adding a letter of instruction could be necessary.

A letter of instruction, also known as a letter of intent, is an informal document that accompanies your will. It provides additional information to your beneficiaries and the executor of your estate.

How a letter of instruction works

Unlike a will, a letter of instruction is not a legally enforceable document. It is a source of information for those responsible for managing your affairs after your death. It is not a replacement or update for your will, but rather adds clarification so your executor or family members know how to carry out your estate wishes.

What you may include in the letter

A letter of instruction can contain various details that your heirs and executor may need to locate your assets. Examples include where to find your birth certificate, home title and deed. You might also provide your digital account details and login credentials, as well as social media account information.

Additionally, the reading of a will generally happens after a funeral, so including your burial and funeral wishes in a will may not work out. This is why some people put such preferences in their letter of instruction.

What to keep out of the letter

While a letter of instruction can cover many aspects of your estate, there are certain provisions that you should leave to a will, such as any instructions to distribute personal effects or bequeath specific items to individuals. A court is unlikely to enforce your letter, plus a disgruntled heir might try to use your letter as evidence that your will is not a true expression of your estate wishes.

By creating a clear and comprehensive letter of instruction alongside your will, you can ensure a smoother transition of your affairs to your loved ones. However, a letter is a supplement, and must exist alongside your legally valid estate documents to function as you intend.