Topics to Address to Heirs upon your Death and How

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We spend a lot of time and effort in my practice helping our clients build a solid Estate Plan. After all of the legal documents are complete, beneficiary designations changed, and accounts and trusts squared away; there is always something missing. Nowhere in any of the formal planning is there an opportunity to personally address those you leave behind and help them with the daunting task of planning a funeral and wrapping up your affairs.For many years, I have maintained an informal non-legally binding letter to my family. It is kept in a sealed envelope with my Will and has the daunting words “To be Opened Upon my Death” across the front.

I always suggest that my clients write a similar letter, but I know very few of them carry it out. It’s a hard letter to write, has to be updated from time to time, and it is tough to know where to start or what to say. To assist, I had promised several of my clients that I would put together a template as a guide. Unfortunately, I do not believe I can provide a template that fits the bill. There are too many variables and it is a letter that does not work well with fill-in-the-blank fields.I can, however; provide some general instructions and guidelines to help you get started. I pulled my letter out of the safe today and used it as a guide for the following bullet points:

  • Address your letter to your Heirs and explain the letter as general instructions that are not intended to be legally binding.

  • Explain where you want to be buried, what pre-planning is in place, and other specific guidance regarding cremation, etc.

  • List your favorite music for the service, bible verses, and suggested participants.

  • List out old friends you wish to be notified of your death.

  • Name your suggestions for pallbearers

  • Provide guidance for obituary and other records. It is most helpful to be specific with dates, the spelling of names of relatives, work history, residence history, organizations, hobbies, etc. Realize that nobody knows any of this information off the top of their head like you, so save your heirs the time, effort and stress.

  • Favorite charities.

  • General guidance on business issues like buy/sell agreements, client notifications, etc.

  • General information on life insurance.

  • Provide names of key advisors and friends who you want your heirs to consult with in regard to business and personal financial affairs.

  • Finally, provide some comforting words of encouragement, Bible verses, or philosophical insight that you believe will be helpful and remembered.

Like I said, this is a hard letter to write. If you have ever been involved with the planning of a funeral I am sure you realize how helpful a letter like this can be. Block out time time on your calendar and try to knock it out. Because I knew I owed my clients this information, mine was updated today, thank goodness!