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Our Experienced Livingston County Lawyers Explain the Role of a Letter of Instruction in Estate Planning

When creating an estate plan, your goal is to make your wishes clear and ensure a smooth probate process for your loved ones after you're gone. In addition to stating your desires in your will or trust, it’s also important to create a letter of instruction to accompany your estate plan.

Not sure what to include in this type of letter? The experienced estate planning lawyers at Estate Planning & Elder Care Firm of Michigan share guidance below. Our team can help you create a comprehensive plan for your Livingston County Estate, including guidance on writing a letter of instruction to complement your legal documents.

What is a Letter of Instruction in a Michigan Estate?

Your comprehensive estate plan should include your will, a financial power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney for health care. Depending on your situation, you may also need a living trust. In addition to these important legal documents, you should also prepare a letter of instruction as part of your estate planning process.  

A letter of instruction is a document giving guidance and information to your loved ones and executor about your wishes, preferences, and essential details regarding your estate. While a letter of instruction is not legally binding like a will or living trust and is not a formal part of your estate plan, it can be a valuable resource for your family members or other heirs during probate. A letter of instruction typically covers things like:

  • Funeral wishes. Provide details about your funeral or memorial service preferences, including burial or cremation, religious or cultural traditions, and any specific requests for music, readings, or speakers.
  • Financial information. Your letter of instructions should include information about your finances, including your assets, income, and debts.
  • Personal property details. You should include information on how you want specific personal belongings, such as jewelry, artwork, furniture, family heirlooms, and your pets, to be distributed among your loved ones and where this property is located.

What Should You Include in Your Letter of Instructions?

When writing a letter of instruction, your objective is to make your wishes clear and make things easier for your loved ones and the executor of your estate after your death. A letter of instruction can help avoid disputes among family members and make the probate process go more quickly and smoothly. Our knowledgeable Michigan estate planning lawyers generally suggest including the following types of information:

  • Location of your estate planning documents. Provide clear instructions on where your will, trust, and other estate planning documents are located, including any passwords or access codes needed to retrieve them.
  • Contact details for your estate planning attorney. It is also vital to include your estate planning lawyer's name and contact information. They can assist the executor of your estate to complete the probate process and distribute your property according to your wishes.
  • List of other people to contact. Create a list of key contacts, including family members, friends, financial advisors, other attorneys, employers, and other professionals who should be notified of your passing.
  • Financial documents location. Specify the location of important financial documents your executor will need in order to manage your affairs, such as a prepaid funeral plan, tax returns, bank accounts, deeds, investment statements, and loan documents.
  • Life insurance policies. Provide details about any life insurance policies you hold, including the policy numbers, coverage amounts, and contact information for the insurance companies.
  • Income details. Include information about any sources of income you receive, such as wages, pensions, Social Security benefits, rental income, or dividends from investments.
  • Tax returns. Provide details on where copies of your recent tax returns are and give instructions for filing any outstanding tax returns or paying any taxes owed.
  • Bills and debts. Make a list of any outstanding bills, debts, or other financial obligations you have, including credit card accounts, mortgages, auto loans, medical bills, and utility bills, along with contact information for the creditors.
  • Your wishes for distributing your assets. Clearly state your wishes for how you want your assets distributed among your beneficiaries, including any charitable donations you want to make, instructions for sentimental items you wish to bequest to certain people, and an explanation of any unequal distributions.

Clarity is Critical in Michigan Estate Planning

When creating your estate plan, it’s important for your wishes to be crystal clear. This will make things easier for your family members after you die and help avoid disputes that will make the Michigan probate process more costly. A letter of instruction can help provide clarity, which is why this type of document is an important part of the estate planning process.

Our experienced Livingston County estate planning lawyers can advise you on what information to include in your letter of instruction and help you create or update the other estate planning documents you need to ensure that your property is distributed as you wish following your death.