Do I need a Letter of Instruction if I already have a valid Will?

For most people, the process of drafting a Will is a challenge. Because it is a legal document some may feel that it is not personal enough and it does not always stipulate the finer details about funeral arrangements or arrangements for items of sentimental value, pets or clothing. This is where a Letter of Instruction could be your answer.  

A Letter of Instruction, also called a Letter of Intent, has the purpose of clearly conveying your intentions to the executor and anyone else that may need to interpret the contents after your death. This document will supplement your Will as a step-by-step guide on how to proceed with distribution of your belongings, or to clarify some detail that was left out of your will.

The document serves as a way for you to express your last wishes in a more personal format. The Letter of Instruction does not have to follow the same rigid structuring as your official Will, as it has no legal authority in itself, and it is not a public document. Because a Letter of Instruction is more personal, it should provide some comfort for your family and simplify the inheritance process for any of your heirs who may not be familiar with the legal terminology that comes with estate planning. Although the executor does not need the document in order to proceed with handling of your estate, a Letter of Instruction can be a handy guide to follow in instances of ambiguity.

There is no prescribed format for a Letter of Instruction, but it does looks somewhat like a will in the sense that they both assign instructions on what to do with your assets. However, you should not include the distribution of any assets in a Letter of Instruction that you have not already included in your Will. For instance – the Letter of Instruction can include burial arrangements or guidance on the memorial service for loved ones that would not usually form part of a Will.

The benefits of a well-crafted Letter of Instruction greatly outweigh the drawbacks of not having one. The flexibility and nature of these letters imply that there is no right or wrong way to write them, but there are a few unwritten rules that you should take note of. Apart from a comprehensive list of all the assets in your possession and instructions for how these are to be distributed after your death, your Letter of Instruction could include the following:

  • The date and your ID number
  • A list of each account beneficiary and their contact information
  • Any papers pertaining to your marriage status and/or citizenship
  • The contact information of creditors or policy holders (mortgage, car loan, insurance policies, etc.)
  • The contact information of your attorneys, accountants, brokers, financial advisors, etc.
  • The location of any assets that are not easily accessible (including safe deposit boxes and their keys or codes)
  • Where to find important documents (tax returns, birth certificates, Title Deeds, etc.)
  • The login credentials pertaining to any financial accounts you may have (passwords, PIN numbers, account numbers, etc. So make sure the letter of instruction is in good hands.)

The addition of a Letter of Instruction to your Will can speed up the estate planning process in a way that makes things easier for everyone involved and you have the peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you intended.

Most people do not know how to write a Letter of Instruction (or may feel uncomfortable doing so) so they enlist the services of a qualified professional, such as an attorney for the purpose. You can also contact Sonja Smith Funeral Group for guidance and examples. We have made it easier: our LIFE FILE is one GO-TO place for copies of your ID document, Marriage Certificate, Antenuptial Contract, Policy Contracts, Motor Vehicle Registration papers and a whole lot more. These are the documents that will be required by the Executor of your estate when you die!  Remember: there is no better time to write down your wishes than the time that you first think about what should happen to your belongings after you die.

For more information about your Life File, and other issues related to estate planning, visit our website at