The basics of estate planning are fairly simple. There are three primary documents that every person should have in place: A Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Health Care Directive. You may call these three the Holy Trinity of estate planning. If these documents are in place, things will generally go easier for one’s family in the event of death or disability.
There are some tools that you can utilize to make matters even easier for your family in the event of a tragedy. For example, simply leaving a detailed list of your assets and liabilities will allow an agent or Personal Representative to efficiently begin to handle your affairs. Another powerful tool is a document called a “Letter of Intent.” A Letter of Intent (LOI) is simply a personal writing detailing an individual’s wishes, directions, instructions, etc. It is not a legal document, meaning any directions in it are not legally binding. Rather it provides guidelines, which a family may consider to be morally binding.
A LOI is a personal document and it can include anything that is important to an individual. Some examples are:
- Burial wishes
- Statements about end of life care
- How to dispose of personal property
- Investment guidelines
- Requests that family members not fight
- Suggestions for the use of any inheritance
I recently had the experience of being able to share a letter of intent with a family after the loss of their loved one. I found a copy of the letter when reviewing the client’s file after I learned of her death. Even though the letter remained in my file for well over a decade, it had a profound and significant effect on her family. In her own words she shared her feelings, gave directions about funeral arrangements and made some recommendations about how to distribute personal property (that is, the stuff). The best part of the experience was that the client’s personality was on display in the letter, as she wrote it in her own words (unlike a Will, which is full of formal legal jargon).
Including a LOI in your personal estate planning can provide your family with much needed practical directions. I believe that specific directions will certainly minimize the possibility of an estate dispute and will give your loved ones peace because they are following your wishes. Best of all, the LOI will not cost you one dime in legal fees!