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Taking Care of Your Family After Your Passing: Here's How to Write a Letter of Intent During the Estate Planning Process

Having an up-to-date will is an excellent step in establishing an estate plan. It provides legal protection and structure to loved ones and starts the process of dispersing property. A will distributes most of your property but often leaves out smaller belongings - leaving loved ones to organize what is left.

family estate planning

What Is a Letter of Intent?

A letter of intent is a personal message designed to reduce the emotional burden of sorting through a loved one's property. But it is also a keepsake and can contain final messages to loved ones.

A letter of intent is not a legal document. It is a letter to loved ones or an executor of a will. It acts as a message from the deceased and can include an array of information, from providing organization and outlining last wishes to detailing information and sending personal messages. 

AARP recommends focusing a letter of intent on three categories:1

  • Funeral Wishes

  • Financial Details

  • Personal Effects

Why Is a Letter of Intent Necessary? 

A letter of intent provides support to loved ones. They won’t need to decide who to give personal effects to or where to allocate funds. It frees loved ones to mourn and provides a small piece of comfort during a challenging time. 

What Should Be Included in a Letter of Intent?

Here are some specifics to include in a letter of intent.

#1: Updates

We all know things can change in life. That’s why, first and foremost, you’ll want to ensure all information on a letter of intent is up-to-date and accurate. An inaccurate letter with improper information might not provide proper wishes. 

#2: Funeral Planning

There’s plenty that goes into planning a funeral—location of burial, flowers, music, time of day, etc. Providing funerary information can remove many questions loved ones might have. They won’t have to wonder if something represents a loved one's wishes, as desires will be clearly stated.

#3: Beneficiary Contact Information

A will may contain beneficiaries, but people may move or not know one another. By providing contact information, beneficiaries can easily be located and contacted. Including several forms of communication, such as email, cell phone, landline, and mailing address, is best.

#4: Financial and Personal Information

Include instructions for accessing information and physical documents. This includes passwords for all digital platforms, from bank accounts to social media. If possible, avoid placing physical documents in an area that would be difficult to access.

#5: Pet Care

Pets are family members for many people, and respecting the deceased's wishes is important. But taking on the responsibility of pet care is a long-term commitment. Discuss pet care with loved ones and include plans in any letter of intent, especially if several pets are in a household. This should include where the pet will go and how to care for the pet properly. 

#6: Personal Belongings

Many personal belongings are left to be distributed by the family. However, the information should be included if there are any specific items one wishes to pass down to a family member. This can be small or large objects, from kitchenware and jewelry to paintings and furniture. Ensure to include instructions for any objects that don’t have a recipient or if anything specific should be donated to charity. 

#7: Include a Personal Message

The letter of intent is not just an object for logistics; it’s a message from the deceased to their loved ones. Personal messages to friends and family members should be included. This gives the letter a final message to loved ones, providing guidance and support. It is an opportunity to share life wishes, lessons, and beloved moments - endless options.

Understanding what to include in a letter of intent can help ease the estate planning process. And, along with a will, a letter of intent provides some clarity to loved ones and serves as a lasting keepsake for future generations.

Invest In a Life You Love,

Donovan Carson - founder of Carson Capital



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