Our mother always made sure we knew where she kept her “important” papers. So, on the day of her passing, my sister pulled out those papers, which included a copy of her will, a durable power of attorney and a prearranged funeral contract, along with a letter addressed to her children.
Needless to say, the letter was moving. It spelled out her final intentions, including how her funeral was to be conducted, the attire she was to wear for her wake and her desire for celebration of life festivities. She also included explanations for the specific bequests contained in her will. After we recovered from the initial shock of reading her personal thoughts, written in her flowing cursive, we were grateful for her direction and input at a time when we were overcome with grief.
My mother’s letter to our family was a letter of intent. Often thought of in terms of business transactions, a letter of intent is also a beneficial tool in estate planning. Unlike traditional estate documents (will, durable power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, living will), a letter of intent is not drafted by an attorney and it is not a legally binding document. It does not take the place of a will but serves as a set of suggestions and requests to your loved ones on personal and financial matters. The informal nature of the letter, personally drafted, allows for it to be easily changed and kept up to date as circumstances change.
The following are topics to be considered for inclusion in a letter of intent:
Funeral or Memorial Services
To assist grieving family and friends, include in your letter information regarding any preplanned funeral arrangements, as well as the location of burial plots or vaults and any associated contracts. Also consider including ceremony details, such as type of service, preferred officiator, music and celebration of life suggestions.
If there are people to be notified of your passing, provide a list of names and contact information.
Include with the letter a list of contact information for your advisors: attorney, accountant, investment professional. Also provide bank account information, the location of safety deposit box(es), insurance policies and active credit cards. Consider including the location of other important documents, such as your birth certificate, Social Security information, marriage license, divorce papers, mortgage documents, other debt instruments and contracts.
Login and Password Information
In today’s digital world, there are logins and passwords for everything. Providing a summary of electronic sign-ins and other codes could be invaluable to your family. Consider including logins and passwords for social media, internet access and for devices themselves, as well as security alarm codes for your primary and/or secondary residences or business.
If not addressed in your will, your wishes for the care of your pets can be included in your letter of intent. If someone in particular would serve as an appropriate caregiver, you could recommend them, as well as provide an explanation of your pet’s habits, feeding schedule and suggested funding for its care.
Explanation of Will
A letter of intent may also be used to explain certain aspects of your will; for instance, the rationale behind your decision of making or not making a bequest. It can also be used to augment your will with regard to shared gifts. For example, you may leave the remainder of your assets to your children equally. In your letter of intent, you could provide your executor with your thoughts on how the assets should be divided. Again, the letter of intent is not legally binding, but it can provide invaluable guidance.
No one wants to think about their own demise, so try and think of writing a letter of intent as a way to ease your loved ones’ grief and despair. This is a mechanism to assist those left behind with guidance to properly honor your legacy. Our mother’s letter of intent to us was a true gift. Despite our sorrow, we took some comfort in knowing that what we did following her passing aligned with her wishes and it helped keep my siblings and me in check.
You’ve heard our thoughts… We’d like to hear yours
The Schneider Downs Our Thoughts On blog exists to create a dialogue on issues that are important to organizations and individuals. While we enjoy sharing our ideas and insights, we’re especially interested in what you may have to say. If you have a question or a comment about this article – or any article from the Our Thoughts On blog – we hope you’ll share it with us. After all, a dialogue is an exchange of ideas, and we’d like to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].
Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.