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The Missing Link in Your Estate Plan


There’s no doubt that many Baby Boomers are planning for the future — 56% have a will, for example, according to a 2011 survey by Rocket Lawyer — but even the savviest among them may overlook one crucial element in their estate plan: a letter of final instruction. “It’s the ‘missing link’ in estate planning,” says Leon LaBrecque, managing partner and founder of LJPR LLC. “It’s something most people don’t have.”

This letter of instruction is a non-legally-binding document that provides your family with guidance upon your death on little things that wouldn’t necessarily go into a legal document. So, for example, this document might help them with contact information for your friends that you’d like notified upon your death; passwords and PIN numbers for your banks accounts or computer; the location of important documents like your birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies and deeds; or funeral details. Basically, you should include anything that your heirs might want or need to know that wasn’t outlined in your estate plan; this list provides further detail on what to include. “It answers the questions that the rest of your estate plan don’t,” LaBrecque says.

Of course, this letter of instruction is just a small part of your overall estate plan. You still need legal documents like a will, living will, health-care proxy, and a durable power of power of attorney for financial reasons and health care reasons. And the letter of instruction is not legally binding, so it may not hold up in court in the event of an estate dispute among heirs.

Still, experts say it’s worth considering writing one, even if it’s just to help your heirs avoid hassles. “It can save your family a lot of stress and confusion,” says LaBrecque. “It helps with the ‘who, what, when, where’ that might not otherwise get answered.”  Just be sure to store it somewhere that your heirs can easily access it upon your death. LaBrecque recommends making copies of the document and giving them to your attorney and anyone else who will be handling your estate upon your death.

Click here for a template for a letter of final instruction.


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    • Daniel, yea I noticed what we bboraply did there. I must say i favored that part, however hehe I am not that harsh like dad using these things. He constantly tells me loopy stories again while in the day and calls me a loser. I assume it’s high time I leave my mom and dad basement LOL. Aaanyways, why don’t you consider you? just what does your dad think xD Anyway, around my language, there will t be considerably good supply like this.

    • the template is a great start. If are interested in a way to write a comprehensive letter of instruction, please visit

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    • Dear Catey,
      There are now online services that help store and pass on your last wishes, like Legacy Locker and Entrustet. One company, E-Z-Safe ( even has an automatic monitor system and automatic email system so that as soon as you stop responding to the system, your last wishes and instructions can immediately be sent to your designated heirs or estate executors. My parent’s friend died and because her lawyer was abroad and the will unavailable, she was buried instead of cremated as she had requested. If she would have used such a service, her last wishes would have been known immediately.

    • A thoughtful addition to every estate plan is your personal and family history. Loved ones undoubtedly will appreciate knowing about the facts and important events of your life after you’re gone, including experiences that inspired you and counsel you can provide to help those you leave behind. Your history can be either written, tape-recorded or videotaped. For a complimentary (and comprehensive) chronological outline to follow to create your history (pdf format), please email me at: EMAREL@COMCAST.NET.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.