A letter of last instruction is a common estate planning document that allows you to communicate to your family all the facts about your personal life—including finances, funeral and memorial arrangements, and everything in between. Because a letter of last instruction is an informal document, you won’t need an attorney to help prepare it.
If you’re preparing to write a letter of last instruction, here’s our guide on everything you need to know in order to create one—and we’ve even included a sample letter of last instruction for your reference.
What is a letter of last instruction? Good question: A letter of last instruction is a straightforward, organized way to give your family all the facts they need about your important documents, including your attorney, doctors, financial information, life insurance, investments, and much much more. Your letter of last instruction should also contain information outlining your personal desires—and how you would like your personal affairs handled when you pass away.
Think of the letter of last instruction definition as an informal yet informative document that will help guide your loved ones, family, and friends through the estate administration process. When you prepare all of this information well in advance of your passing, you’ll make life much easier for your loved ones—they’ll know exactly where to find all of your personal, financial, and funeral information. Without a letter of last instruction, loved ones will have to sort through all of your information and scramble to locate the details they need. Save them the time, energy, hassle and confusion by writing your letter of last instruction today.
To write a letter of last instruction for heirs, decide who you’ll be addressing. For most seniors, it will likely be your spouse or partner, adult child, relative, or attorney. Some seniors decide to write a letter of last instruction with a spouse or partner; others might write a letter of last instruction and then sit down with a child or loved one to go over the specific information and ensure that everything is taken care of.
Once you’ve completed a letter of last instruction, make several copies of it. It’s best practice to send one to your attorney or executor, keep one with a copy of your will, and keep another one with your family. Because your letter of last instruction includes so much sensitive and personal identification information—as well as important financial information—keep your document in a secure place and only share it with individuals you trust.
As you plan your letter of last instruction, be gentle with yourself. Preparing this letter is often a challenging—and understandably emotional—task. But as you move forward, remember that preparing a letter of last instruction provides an immense amount of peace of mind for your loved ones. These specific end-of-life instructions will provide clear and helpful guidance for your family and friends during an undeniably difficult time. Having a letter of last instruction also serves as a great way to ensure that your final wishes are honored.
Far too often, when someone passes away, it causes confusion, frustration, and complicated processes for those left grieving. Save your loved ones this stress by preparing a letter of last instruction well in advance.
In the following sections, we’ll detail the various components that should go into your letter of last instruction. Some elements may not apply to your situation, while other sections may be absolutely vital to you.
Finally, we recommend that you update your letter of last instruction annually. Mark your calendar today to update your letter again in a year. You may have a few changes or you may simply check that all contact information is accurate. Last but not least, don’t forget to store your letter in a safe place.
We’ve included a letter of last instruction template below—so you can prepare everything you need.
If you own a car (or two), jot down all relevant information, including:
Your letter of last instruction should include the names and contact details of your beneficiaries.
This list should also include any specific instructions for sentimental items without monetary value. So, for instance, if your grandson has requested that your antique desk be passed along to him, your letter of last instruction is the perfect place to indicate that his wish is honored.
Some individuals may also use this part of the letter as an opportunity to provide any necessary explanations. If there are any provisions in your will, such as disinheritances, you may explain those circumstances here.
Prepare a list of people, such as loved ones, family, and friends, to notify of your death. Include their name, address, telephone number (both cell and home, if possible), and email address. You might also want to include any social media accounts you have on file for these individuals.
In addition to loved ones, include business professionals in your life that will need to know of your passing. This might include your accountant, attorney, broker, employer, and insurance agent.
Next, list the number of death certificates that will be needed. In most situations, anywhere from six to twelve are required. Your funeral director will order as many death certificates as requested—but if more are needed, it’s simple to request additional copies from your state’s department of health. Some institutions will want a certified copy of your death certification, such as:
Be sure to also include the information necessary for your death certificate in this section:
In today’s society, nearly everyone has an online account for email, banking, investing, social media, and so much more. Begin to make a list of all the important websites that you use on a regular basis—and note which accounts you’ll want to provide your loved ones access to.
Make a list of usernames and passwords of all applicable accounts. Be sure to include the username and password to your computer so it can be easily unlocked by whoever is managing your estate. Sharing all usernames and passwords ensures that all personal and financial information associated with your accounts is not breached or compromised following your death.
Preparing your financial information in your letter of last instruction might be the most time-consuming part of this process—so block off some time on your calendar and pour yourself a cup of tea (or coffee). In this section, you’ll want to list all the financial accounts you hold—from investments to IRAs to savings accounts.
For checking and savings accounts:
Compile financial information for your checkings, savings, and any other financial accounts:
For stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or other securities:
Compile the following information:
For business property:
If you own a company or have a business arrangement, such as a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company, provide information on the property, location of titles, and any other relevant records.
For credit cards:
List your cards by the issuer, card number, and location. If you have an account online with your credit card company, provide this information as well.
If you have any loans in your name, make a list of all the debts owed:
Debts owed to you:
Last but not least, if there are any debts owed to you, compile a list of information:
Describe any funeral or memorial arrangements that you’ve already made—and be sure to note which components your family or loved ones are still responsible for completing. Typical wishes include:
Everdays makes planning your funeral and memorial arrangements a lot easier than you might imagine—our free planning app lets you plan the experience you want for your funeral, memorial, or celebration of life services, where loved ones will gather to honor your life, and how you wish to be laid to rest. Plus, you can give loved ones instant access to your decisions—so they’ll know just what to do when the time comes.
Next in your letter of last instruction, review the location of special information from government agencies. This may include the following information:
Next, if you own any homes, provide information on the location of the deed and mortgage papers on all the property you own. As part of this information, include details on taxes, liens, and leases.
This is also the place in your letter of last instruction where you can list all the contents of your house. Provide details on where each household item is located, its appraisals, and what you would like to happen to the items you own.
List all your insurance policies, including home owner’s or renter’s insurance, life, auto, and medical, with the following details:
If you have any personal effects that you would like to note, this is the perfect section to do so. In this category, include a detailed description of each item. Then, note the name, address, and relationship to the person who is to receive the personal item. This often includes jewelry, collectibles, furniture, family heirlooms, and more.
Leaving a pet behind can be heart wrenching—but making a plan in advance of who will take care of them in your absence will give you peace of mind. Make a note of who should take ownership of your pet and how their care should be both provided and funded.
If your pet has any special needs, allergies, or even just a list of favorite activities and snacks, you can also include that information here.
If you have a safe deposit or a post office box, write down the location and the address of the box. Next, make a list of the contents of the box and where the key or combination is located. List names of authorized signers.
Do you have recurring monthly subscriptions? Make a list of all your digital subscription details, including any login information that would be helpful for your loved ones to manage.
In your letter of last instruction, include the location of your income tax returns and any additional documentation. It’s best practice to share records from the past five years.
Make a list of any trusts and wills you have created. If you have trustees, give the name and address of each trustee, identifying both the type and the number of assets in each trust.
Below, you’ll find a letter of last instruction example of how to write a letter of instruction and what the format could look like. Feel free to take this sample letter of instruction for estate planning and customize it accordingly!
Provide the location of the registration title and insurance policies for your vehicles.
List the names and contact information of each beneficiary.
Death Certificates and Death Notification
In most cases, 6–12 certified death certifications are necessary to document your passing. In this section, provide information that will be needed for your death certificates:
Digital Records and Computers
Make a list of personal property and financial information, including:
Credit Union Savings
For investment accounts:
For outstanding loans:
For debt owed to you:
Government Agencies and Information
Home Ownership Records, Lease Agreements, and Household Contents
Provide details on your home ownership records, including the deed, title insurance, mortgage papers, and more.
Next in your letter of instruction for your will, provide a list of your household inventory or photographs of your household contents:
List all of your insurance policies with relevant details. Include life, auto, home, health, credit life, funeral, and burial insurance policies with the following information.
Identify your personal effects and determine if you’d like to leave these items to particular family members or friends.
Provide information on your pets.
Post Office Boxes and Safe Deposit Boxes
Provide the location and number of your post office box or safe deposit box.
List your current subscriptions.
Notes: Sharing subscriptions with daughter Alex Renee Singer. I have nothing in my own name.
Provide information on your income tax refunds and supporting documentation for the past five years.
Trust and Wills
Describe any trust funds or wills.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Everdays encourages individuals to seek advice from their own investment or tax advisor or legal counsel.