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Avoid Unnecessary Family Disputes with a Letter of Instruction

June 30, 2022

The time immediately after the death of a loved one can be stressful and overwhelming. Family members are grieving, and on top of this, they must handle a variety of organizational and legal tasks. In many cases, there can also be disputes concerning who gets certain possessions, which can make the whole situation even messier and create some ugly conflicts. Fortunately, you can minimize many of these complications by addressing these matters ahead of time and creating a letter of instruction, which is generally broken down into three parts.

1) Funeral Arrangements
This typically begins with making a list of all the people, organizations, agencies, and professionals who should be notified upon your death. You should include contact information like phone numbers, email, and mailing addresses, along with any other pertinent details. If you are an organ or tissue donor, you will want to also include relevant information.
You will need to leave everything your loved ones should know about your burial method, including whether you will be buried in a plot or cremated. In the event that you have paid for funeral arrangements in advance, you should include this information as well.

2) Financial and Personal Affairs
When it comes to finances, you can start by listing contact information for your attorney, stockbroker, employer, insurance agent, financial planner, etc. You should make it as easy as possible to reach anyone involved with your financial matters. It’s also important to make note of all your financial accounts such as checking, savings, retirement funds, and credit cards. If you want to contribute to any charitable organizations, you will also need to include their contact details.

For personal affairs, you should state the location of documents like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce papers, diplomas, etc. This should streamline things and make it much easier for your loved ones to get your documents organized.

Since there is a lot of sensitive information concerning financial and personal affairs, you need to ensure that all records are kept in a safe place like a fireproof lock box in your home. The only people who should have access to the lockbox are you and your executor.

3) Distribution of Personal Effects
Finally, it’s smart to go in-depth about how your personal possessions should be distributed among family and friends. Basically, this will elaborate upon your will and take it one step further so there is no confusion or disputes. This is where you state who gets smaller items like your electronics, books, dishes, and so on.

While there is some debate as to whether you should discuss whom you plan to give what ahead of time, it’s usually not a bad idea to sit down and go over things while you can still get everyone’s input. If a certain family member has no interest in a particular item, then you could give it to a different family member who could make better use of it. Also, don’t forget to make arrangements for who will care for your pets.

Sanford M. Fisch
CEO & Co-Founder
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.