Why You Need a Letter of Last Instruction & How to Write One

Why You Need a Letter of Last Instruction & How to Write One

In our business, we often help clients prepare for what happens after they’re gone. We set up estate plans and consult with their attorneys on wills and the legal side of distributing their assets. Despite all that work, families can still be left with difficult problems after a loved one dies. A detail missed or vital account that can’t be accessed complicates their path forward during a sad and difficult time.

Some time ago, I started encouraging my clients to complete a letter of last instruction as an essential part of their estate plans. It’s not a replacement for a will, and in fact it’s not even a legal document. But it can be incorporated into the necessary legal documents as a guide and the key to making sure everything is accounted for and accessible to the family members left behind. Written correctly, it can augment your will to make the probate process quicker and much clearer.

Writing one isn’t easy or quick. It’s a long process that should be tackled in stages over the course of a few weeks or months. It should include as much detail as possible and be kept alongside your will and other documents.

What should you include?

Download our Letter of Last Instruction worksheet to get started.

Your Final Instructions
This is where you can spell out the exact details for your funeral and what to do with your remains. List everything the funeral director and family members who are handling your arrangements should know. It’s also the place to detail what should happen with your pets and your most treasured personal effects.

All Financial Information
Bank accounts, investments, insurance, credit cards, debts you owe, debts owed to you, safe deposit boxes, pension and Social Security, death benefits to expect, taxes—include anything and everything. List which accounts are at which banks, the names of your financial advisors, account numbers, access codes and anything else needed to wind down your finances. This is important and protected information, underlining the need to keep this document safe.

Personal Details
Your loved ones may need to special instructions about your home or car. They’ll need a list of your doctors so they can notify them of your death, as well as contact information for your boss and co-workers.

How to Access Everything
Along with financial access information, give them the passwords to your computer, email and social media accounts, the access code to your phone and answers to your security questions. If your file drawers are locked, where can they find the key or combination? If you use cloud file storage online, which service do you use, and how do you get in?

Once completed, copies of your letter should be given to your attorney, executor and spouse, and another should be kept in your safe or safe deposit box. You can keep paper copies as needed and a digital copy in a safe and secure location, like an encrypted cloud storage service or a thumb drive locked away in a safe.

If you’re married or have a life partner, this is a good exercise to do together. You can also bring in your attorney, accountant and financial advisor for guidance.

To get an idea of where to start, download this worksheet that lists the most essential information. You may decide to add even more as you move along in the process.

Download our Letter of Last Instruction worksheet to get started.


Lance Collins is a financial advisor and area manager based in Pinnacle's office at 3980 Premier Drive in High Point, NC. He can be reached by phone at 336-881-3346 or by email at Lance.Collins@pnfp.com.

The information provided herein does not, and is not intended to, constitute tax, legal or accounting advice. Instead, this material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Information contained herein is subject to change and may not constitute the most up-to-date information. It is recommended that you contact your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken bused on the contents hereof are hereby expressly disclaimed. The content herein is provided “as is,” no representations are made that the content is error-free.

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