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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: What is a letter of instruction?

For many, making an appointment with a New York or New Jersey estate planning attorney is one of those tasks that never makes it to the top of the to-do list. It lingers there at the bottom of the list or in the back of the mind for any number of reasons—the most popular one being that no one likes to face their own mortality.

Generally, a comprehensive estate plan will include a last will and testament, commonly known as a “will”, sometimes a trust, and often other recommended documents planning for incapacity such as powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and living wills.

Many clients find that finally putting their affairs in order wasn’t as uncomfortable as they imagined and that safeguarding their future and that of their loved ones brought them incredible peace of mind.

Among many other benefits, the above documents allow people to control how their assets will be distributed or managed after they’re gone. But there are other bits of advice and information people want to provide to those who will be managing their affairs—or raising their young children–in the event, they become disabled or after their death. That’s where a letter of instruction comes into play.

What is a letter of instruction?

A letter of instruction is a letter intended to help those who will be managing your affairs after you die or become disabled. It covers all the small but important details that your designated people will need to know that aren’t part of your will.

Examples of information in a letter of instruction

Letters of instruction are helpful in these and other instances:

  • communicating priorities to trustees of minor beneficiaries on managing money;
  • communicating health and education information and goals to guardians of minor children to ease the transition;
  • communicating information for a special needs trust trustee regarding the beneficiary’s “disability, daily routines and medications, favorite activities, fears, likes and dislikes” among other things;
  • communicating information on a pet’s likes and dislikes for the person entrusted with its care;
  • communicating information regarding social media and online accounts including user names and passcodes and how you want those accounts maintained or closed.

In addition to the above, letters of instruction are helpful for communicating anything you think would help those taking over to do the job easier and in the way, you would’ve wanted. This includes explanations of decisions in your estate plan (to clarify or to mitigate hurt feelings, for example), how your bills are paid, where important papers are located, and who should be notified of your death. It should also be updated periodically as things change.

If you need help with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.