Creating an estate plan helps you protect your heirs by securing the assets that you want to leave them. Unfortunately, leaving a will that is vague or not worded correctly can create problems that lead to disputes among your beneficiaries. After the death of Robin Williams, his widow found herself involved in a battle over the estate with the late actor’s children. According to his estate plan, certain family members were bequeathed specific items and memorabilia, but there was a disagreement over what should be considered personal items, gifts, joint property, and memorabilia. Though the family eventually settled the issue out of court, the situation was an example of what can happen if you do not leave a detailed letter of instruction thoroughly explaining your last wishes.

What is a Letter of Instruction?

A letter of instruction is a detailed list of your final wishes written in simple language to provide information in a clear and concise manner. The letter is included in an estate plan to make it easier for your executor to carry out your final wishes and reduce the likelihood of a dispute that is caused by multiple heirs interpreting the spirit of your will in different ways. Ultimately, the letter is designed to remove any doubts regarding what your intent is regarding your estate’s distribution.

What Information Should the Letter Contain?

Any letter of instruction that you create should contain information that supplements or further expands upon your existing estate plan and provides information that your estate planner will need  A good letter of instruction should include a full list of all tangible items including heirlooms, sentimental items, and keepsakes along with the full name of the person you want to receive each item. The letter should also explain how you would like for other assets to be distributed and share the location of all accounts along with providing usernames, passwords, or pin numbers needed to access various accounts.

How Does the Letter Help Your Heirs?

The time after a loved one has passed is difficult for everyone and estate problems often make a bad situation much worse. Letters of instruction make things easier for your family and friends by assuring them that they are doing things exactly the way you hoped they would. A letter of instruction can answer any questions they may have about your financial instructions, your funeral wishes, or the distribution of certain assets. The letter provides a personal touch to your estate plan that a traditional will often lacks.

Enhancing an Estate Plan

The best instructions seamlessly augment a formal will and estate plan. Once you have decided to include a letter of instruction in your estate plan, it is best to speak with a trust and estate attorney. A lawyer can ensure that the instructions you provide do not contradict any parts of your will or cause conflict among your family. The attorneys at MMZ LAW know how important it is to clearly express your wishes to those who were closest to you. We can work with you to create an estate plan and draft written instructions that confirm your wishes. Contact us at our conveniently located Claremont, California office today at 909-256-6702 to schedule an initial consultation.



341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.