Washington The death of Michael Jackson, and the initial confusion over his will, got me to thinking: My husband and I are long overdue for updating ours.
Along with the updated will, we need to attach what professionals call a “letter of instruction.”
Had Jackson communicated his last wishes better, there would not have been such confusion.
For most of us, our estates won’t be nearly as complicated or large as Jackson’s. Our estates are pretty simple. Nonetheless, you need to leave instructions of where to find the documents that leave a trail of your holdings.
A letter of instruction includes the names of who should be contacted in the event of your death and the whereabouts of all your essential documents.
If you keep your letter on your computer, be sure to print a copy or save it to a CD or flash drive. Share the whereabouts of the letter with someone trustworthy because it is of little use if no one knows of its existence. Consider the letter of instruction as a master list, detailing where you keep your financial documents.
What should specifically be in this letter? In addition to directions about your will and any trust documents, include any information about, and the location of, the following:
• Life insurance policy.
• Social Security or Veterans Affairs records.
• A complete list of your assets — liquid and illiquid. Liquid assets would include cash. Illiquid would include such property as your home — things that would have to be sold to produce cash.
• Documents relating to your assets — mortgage papers, vehicle titles, marriage certificate, divorce papers, military records, investment information, bank accounts and retirement plans.
• A list of any major debts outstanding, such as your home mortgage or car loans.
• Names of your lawyers and professional advisers.
• If you own a business, include documents related to it and a list of key employees who should be contacted.
Here is a list of Web sites where you can download for free either a template for a letter of instruction or detailed information about what the letter should include.
• Federalretirement.net/ retiresamples.htm.
• Aarp.org. Search for “letter of instruction.”
• Ohioline.osu.edu. Again, search for “letter of instruction.”
Before she died, my grandmother showed me where all her documents were kept — in a beige purse tucked in the corner of her bedroom closet.
Because Big Mama left such good instructions, I handled the closing of her estate with ease.