What Is a Letter of Instruction and Why Do You Need One

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • A letter of instruction informs your family of your wishes after your death. Find out what a letter of instruction is and discover why you might need one.

A letter of instruction lets your family and loved ones know your final wishes beyond the cold legal language of a will. While it holds no legal weight and doesn't supercede the will, a letter of intent provides more context and explanation for final decisions. It can also straighten out minor affairs that wouldn't be appropriate to include in the legal framework of a will.

Also known as a letter of intent, a letter of instruction can include an emotional component that might resonate with those who read it.

What Should Be in a Letter of Instruction?

At its most practical level, a letter of instruction explains where family members and the executor can locate physical items. It may also include non-tangible items such as contact information for individuals and businesses that loved ones may need to get in touch with.

The following are some of the most important things to include in your letter of instruction: 

  • A complete list of assets, including bank, investment, brokerage and retirement accounts and any login information (usernames, passwords, PINs) needed to access these accounts

  • The location of any assets that aren't readily apparent 

  • Contact information for lawyers, bankers and anyone else involved with the handling of affairs 

  • The physical location of documents and records that an executor might need, including titles and deeds, birth certificates, tax returns and Social Security statements

  • Where keys for safe deposit boxes are located

  • How family heirlooms and anything of sentimental value should be distributed among family and friends

  • Information about insurance policies, especially if there's a life insurance policy that will pay out to beneficiaries

  • Desires for how pets should be cared for

  • A list of debtors (credit card companies, automobile loans, mortgages and any loans) 

What Personal Desires Should Be Listed in a Letter of Instruction?

Many people choose to include personal and emotional content in their letter of instruction. It can be used to direct personal desires, such as wishes for the funeral, including its location and the music to be played.

If the person was cremated, the letter of instruction could also communicate where they want their ashes spread and the type of ceremony they'd prefer.    

The letter of instruction may include an "ethical will," which lays out the person's values and beliefs to loved ones. It can explain the person's philosophy on life and communicate love and appreciation for the family they're leaving behind.

This part of the letter of instruction can also include how the person wants their heirs to spend their inheritance, such as on a vacation to a cherished family spot or a down payment on a house. While none of that direction is legally binding, it communicates the hopes of the person writing the letter.

Ultimately, the letter of instruction should communicate whatever the person wishes to say to their loved ones. Its primary importance is helping with the practical matters of executing an estate, but it should also communicate love and warmth and a final accounting of affairs to beneficiaries. And, of course, it should be kept in a safe place where loved ones can find it.

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with HelpAdivsor.com. He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at Mike@MyHelpAdvisor.com.

Read More
Woman helps her mother review documents
Trusts and estates that earn income must file IRS Form 1041 Deductible Expenses. Find out when the ...
Compare living wills vs powers of attorney and know when to use each one. Learn how to make sure your ...
Two women chat while one uses her laptop computer
Learn about the benefits and drawbacks of payable on death accounts, which transmit assets to one's ...