by: Begley Law Group

by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA

[Article originally published in Straight Word] This is the second part of a two-part series on adding value to your client’s estate plan.  (Click here for Part 1)

Letter of Instructions

A general Letter of Instructions can be very useful to the executor, health care representative, and agent under Powers of Attorney.  Consider breaking a Letter of Instructions into the following categories:

  • Personal Information.  List members of the immediate family by name, address, telephone number, date of birth, and Social Security Number.  Include information for children, grandchildren, and any surviving parents.
    • Notification.  List persons to notify if the client becomes seriously ill, disabled, or dies.
    • Location of Important Documents and Items.  The list would include:  Will, Trust, Powers of Attorney, Tangible Personal Property List, Advance Medical Directive, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Baptism Certificates, Adoption Certificates, Divorce Certificates or Decrees, Death Certificates, Naturalization Papers, Diplomas, Passports, Social Security Cards, employment records, military records (including DD214 or discharge papers), health records, checkbooks, canceled checks, safe deposit box key, P.O. Box key, life insurance, health insurance, accident insurance, homeowner’s insurance, stock certificates, income tax records, motor vehicle titles, other titles, income tax records, Savings Bonds, Deed to home, Deeds to other real estate, Mortgage payment information, credit card account information, and any other important documents.
    • Real Estate.  List information regarding real estate including address, telephone number, security system companies, security system code, and security system telephone number.
    • Passwords.  Usernames and passwords should be provided for all digital assets including:  computer, financial institutions, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Skype, Snapfish, Shutterfly, Flickr, PayPal, eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, online storage accounts, domain name, YouTube, rewards accounts, and any others.
    • Veterans Information.  Information including branch of service, dates of service, ID number, wounded or disabled, VA life insurance, receiving pension or disability, and information about where the client served.
    • Banking and Financial Services.  List all checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, securities, safe deposit box, including account numbers and how each account is titled.
    • Life Insurance and Annuities.  List the individual insured, the type of policy or annuity, the face value, policy or contract number, beneficiary designations, and names of companies.
    • Property Insurance.  List information pertaining to property insurance for real estate, motor vehicles, personal liability, long-term care insurance, tangible personal property, including policy numbers and names of companies.
    • Medical Insurance.  List the person insured, type of policy, amount of coverage, policy number, names of companies or groups.
    • Retirement, Pension or Profit-Sharing Plans.  Indicated the person enrolled in the plan and the plan name.
    • Business Interests.  Include name of business, type of business, type of entity (i.e., LLC, Corporation, etc.). 
    • Real Property.  List all real property including the type of property, address of property, names(s) of owner(s), how the property is titled, date of acquisition, and purchase price.
    • Inventory of Safe Deposit Box.  List contents of safe deposit box.
    • Personal Property.  List each asset of personal property including the date acquired, value, and any other important information.
    • Vehicles.  List the type of vehicle, the person to whom the vehicle is titled, the location of the keys, year, make, model, and location of registration.
    • Employment Record.  List employer’s names and employment dates.
    • Outstanding Loans or Debts.  Include the name and address of the creditor and an estimate of the amount owed.
    • Physicians.  List all physicians including addresses and telephone numbers, the physician’s specialty, and the patient’s name.
    • Pets.  List the pet’s name, veterinarian’s name, address and telephone number, and information pertaining to pet insurance including company name, address, telephone number, and policy number.
    • Funeral, Cremation, Burial, and Final Instructions.  This should include information pertaining to proposed funeral home, proposed funeral director, embalming, burial instructions including identification of plot (if previously acquired), cremation instructions and final location of ashes, funeral instructions, public viewing, private viewing or no viewing, open casket or closed casket, if services to be held at a church include name of church and clergy, if services to be held at cemetery include name of cemetery, if services to be held at another location include specific information on location, eulogy preference, readings, music, requested pallbearers, requested clothing, in lieu of flowers, and any other instructions.
    • Obituary Information.  This should include schools attended and dates, degrees, employment, length of time at current residence, special honors and awards, community activities, professional memberships, other memberships, volunteer activities, newspapers for the obituary, and any other information to be included.
    • Important Contact Information.  Include the following: 
Social Security Administration800-772-1213 or https://www.ssa.gov
Internal Revenue Service800-829-1040 or https://www.irs.gov
Department of Veterans Affairs800-827-1000 or https://www.va.gov
National Center for Health Statisticshttps://www.cdc.gov/nchs
AARP Legal Serviceshttps://www.aarp.org
Free Credit Reports               https://www.annualcreditreport.com
Free Service that Identifies Federal and State Assistance Programs for Older Americanshttps://www.benefitscheckup.org
  • Checklist.  Include a checklist for after the death of a loved one that includes: 

□   Contact Attorney 

□   Arrange for care of dependents, if any

□   Arrange for care of pets, if any

□   Evaluate the need for security at residence

□   Cancel home deliveries (newspaper, meals on wheels, mail, etc.)

□   Arrange for care of plants

□   Remove perishable foods

□   Monitor all email accounts sixty days prior to closing

□   Return passport to issuing office

□   Return driver’s license to Department of Motor Vehicles

□   File papers with Department of Motor Vehicles to change title and registration

□   Cancel utilities or change name (gas, electricity, water/sewer, garbage collection, cable, Internet)

□   Home/Auto Insurance (confirm they offer coverage through probate process)

□   Fraternal Organizations

□   Shopper’s clubs

□   Pharmacy

□   Library (return books and notify of death)

□   Video and DVD Rentals (return rented movies to Redbox, Netflix, etc. and notify of death)

□   Pick up any dry cleaning

□   Cancel or return items on layaway

□   Cancel any appointments

□   Cancel vacations or other pre-planned events

Storing Client’s Original Will

            Many clients do not have a safe place to store their Wills.  An extra service that law firms can offer would be to offer to store the Will in a vault on the law firm’s premises.