This is a vital step in the estate planning process: leaving a letter of instruction behind for your family. The letter should provide information that directs your family to necessary contacts, documents, and your final request details. Choose a form of safe keeping to ensure that the items will be readily available, and accessible, to your family.

The following are important items to include in your letter:

Personal and Professional Contacts

Attorney - Provide the name, address and telephone number of the attorney who drew up your will, and other legal documents.

Accountant - Provide the name, address and telephone number of the accountant who can advise on or prepare final taxation documents.

Broker/Agent - Provide the name, address and telephone number of the broker, or agent who handles your financial accounts.

Pastor/Priest/Rabbi/Spiritual Advisor - Provide the name, address and telephone number of the person you wish to conduct your service. Specify what your wishes are regarding ceremonial or funeral arrangements, including your wishes regarding cremation or burial.

Family and Friends - Make a list of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of family members and friends that you would like contacted.

Financial Details

In addition to providing the information suggested below, it would be a good idea to photocopy all the relevant documents and state where the originals are held.

Bank Accounts - For all your checking accounts, savings accounts, and CDs, make a list of all the banks in which accounts are held. Provide the name, address, and telephone number of each one. Specify the account numbers, names on the account, account type, and current balances of each account. Also, include the location of any safe deposit boxes.

Stocks/Bonds - Make a list of all the brokerage firms in which accounts are held. Provide the name, address, and telephone number of each one. Specify the account number, names of the stock owners, type of investment vehicles, and the current values.

US Savings Bonds - Provide beneficiary details, the number of bonds held, the serial number of each bond, the contact details for the issuing office, and an estimate of current values.

Treasury Bills/Notes - List the number of the bills or notes held, the serial numbers, the name of the beneficiary, the contact details for the issuing office, and an estimate of current values.

Pension Funds/Retirement Accounts - For any plan such as an IRA, 401(k), or Keogh, list the details of the plan including the account numbers, the amounts contributed, the names and addresses of the trustees, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the insurance companies or brokerage firms.

Insurance Policies

Life Insurance - Include a list of personal and employment group life insurance plan details. Provide the agent contact details, the policy numbers, and the names and addresses of beneficiaries, and the amounts to be paid out.

Health Insurance - Make a note of the plan advisor’s details so that they can deal with final medical expenses and help with information about the continuity of medical coverage for eligible, surviving family members.

Home and Vehicle Insurance - Provide the policy and agent contact details. In the event of an accidental death, there may be coverage under the policies for additional benefits.

Real Property

Property Deeds/Title - It is best to have a photocopy of these important documents available as they include all the pertinent information to help establish clean title and ensure the smooth ownership transfer or sale of the property. For any real estate such as your own home(s) or real estate investments (including time-shares or condominiums) provide the property description, the type of ownership, and the value of the property.

Mortgages - Again, having a photocopy readily available replete with the relevant details can be a great time-saver. Be sure to note the outstanding amounts on each mortgage.

Personal Property

Motor Vehicles/Boats - Have the registration information available, together with the Department of Licensing contact details, to effect title transfer.

Jewelry/Art/Antiques - Keep a list of all valuable personal items. Include in this list: item description, a photograph, the value of the item and the insurance company details. Any appraisals should also be made available.

Creditors

Credit Cards - Make a list of all your credit card accounts, together with the contact details, so that the accounts may be settled and then closed. If there is insurance on the account, the company may pay off the account in the event of death. This should be looked into.

General Debts - Any outstanding accounts should be settled and closed. This will keep an up-to-date list of any money you owe. Such information will be helpful to your family.

Finally, find a safe place to store the letter you create. Providing the letter or a copy to a trusted friend, your attorney, your accountant, or a Safe Deposit Box will ensure that your family and loved ones will have access to your final instructions which will prove indispensable at a difficult time. If you have a safe deposit box, be sure and sign the necessary document with the bank giving one or more persons access to the safe deposit box.