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What is a Letter of Last Instruction?

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Executors can use additional information in administering estates, especially if the executor is unrelated to the decedent.

What is a Letter of Last Instruction? A letter of instruction is frequently recommended for parents of disabled children to share information for when the parent dies. However, a letter of instruction can also be a helpful resource for executors, says the article “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction” from The Mercury. This is especially valuable, if the executor doesn’t know the decedent or their family members very well.

For disabled children, legal documents address specific issues and aren’t necessarily the right place to include personal information about the child or the parent’s desires for the child’s future. Estate plans need more information, especially for a minor child.

The goal is to create a document to make clear what the parents want for the child after they pass, whether that occurs early or late in the child’s life. For a disabled child, the first questions to be addressed in the estate plan concern who will care for the child if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated, where will the child live and what funds will be available for their care. Once those matters are resolved, however, there are more questions about the child’s wants and needs.

The letter of instruction can answer questions about the special information only a parent knows and is helpful in future decisions about their care and living situation. It should also include information about wishes for a funeral or burial and contain everything from directions for the music list for a ceremony to the writing on the headstone.

Once the letter of instruction is created, the next question is, where should you put it so it is secure and can be accessed when it is needed? Don’t put it in a bank safe deposit box. This is a common error for estate planning documents as well. The executor may only access the contents of the safe deposit box after letters of administration have been issued. This happens after the funeral, and sometimes long after the funeral. By then, it will be too late for any instructions.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe deposit box presents other problems. If the bank seals the safe deposit box on notification of the owner’s death, the executor won’t be able to proceed. This can sometimes be prevented by having additional owners on the safe deposit box, if permitted by the bank . Any additional owners will also need to know where the key is located and be able get access to it.

The better solution is to keep all important documents including wills, financial power of attorney, health care powers, living wills, or health care directives, insurance forms, cemetery deeds, information for the family’s estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and CPA, etc., in one location known to the trusted person who will need access to the documents. That person will need a set of keys to the house. If they are kept in a fire and waterproof safe in the house; they will also need the keys to the safe.

If the parents move or move the documents, they’ll need to remember to tell the trusted person where these documents have moved., Otherwise, a lot of work will have been for naught.

To discuss What is a Letter of Last Instruction, book a call with the Law Firm of Benjamin D. Eckman with offices in the Wayne, Union and Hackensack.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 19, 2022) “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction”

Law Firm of Benjamin Eckman
Planning Today for Your Family's Tomorrow

1767 Morris Ave., Suite 314
Union, NJ 07083

By Appointment Only:

73 Mt. View Blvd., Wayne, NJ 07470
(973)709-0909

1 University Drive, Suite 609
Hackensack, NJ 07601

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Union Office

1767 Morris Ave., Suite 314
Union, NJ 07083

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Wayne Office

By Appointment Only:

73 Mt. View Blvd., Wayne, NJ 07470
(973)709-0909

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Hackensack Office

1 University Drive, Suite 609
Hackensack, NJ 07601

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