Having an up-to-date will or trust is an excellent first step in establishing an estate plan. These documents provide legally binding instructions regarding the distribution of property. While they are essential, they often leave out your intentions regarding personal effects or funeral arrangements.
This is where a letter of intent can be of significant value. Though not legally binding, a letter of intent can provide guidance and emotional support to loved ones.
What Is a Letter of Intent?
The letter is a document written to loved ones or an executor of a will. It is designed to reduce the emotional burden of sorting through property, as those involved in settling your estate need to decide to whom to give personal effects. It may also outline last wishes, and it can also be a keepsake with personal messages. It frees loved ones to mourn and provides a small piece of comfort during a challenging time.
AARP recommends focusing a letter of intent on three categories:1
- Funeral Wishes
- Financial Details
- Personal Effects
What Should Be Included in a Letter of Intent?
We all know things can change in life. You’ll want to make sure all information in a letter of intent is up-to-date. An inaccurate letter might not provide proper wishes.
#2: Funeral Planning
There’s plenty that goes in to planning for a funeral - location of burial, flowers, music, time of day, etc. Providing information regarding your wishes can remove many questions loved ones might have. Please make sure to give your letter of intent to a loved one while you are still living. Otherwise you run the risk that your loved ones learn of your funeral intentions when it is too late.
#3: Beneficiary Contact Information
A will may contain beneficiaries, but people may move or not know one another. By providing complete information, beneficiaries can easily be located and contacted. Our Just in Case guide can be helpful.
#4: Financial and Personal Information
Include instructions for accessing information and physical documents. This includes passwords for all digital platforms, from bank accounts to social media. If possible, avoid placing physical documents in an area that would be difficult to access. Once again, use our Just in Case guide.
#5: Pet Care
Pets are family members for many people, and respecting the wishes of the deceased is important. But taking on the responsibility of pet care is a long-term commitment. Make sure to discuss pet care with loved ones and include plans in any letter of intent.
#6: Personal Belongings
A letter of intent will list specific items one wishes to pass down to certain family members. It could be helpful to take pictures of these items and attach to the list. Make sure to include instructions for any objects that don’t have a recipient or which items should be donated to charity.
#7: Include a Personal Message
Personal and final messages to friends and family members, providing guidance and support, should be included. It is an opportunity to share life wishes, values, lessons and beloved moments - the options are endless.
Understanding what to include in a letter of intent can help ease the process of estate planning. And, along with a will, a letter of intent provides clarity to loved ones and serves as a lasting keepsake for future generations.
Shari Greco Reiches