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Letters of instruction provide Oklahoma estate guidance

Studies and polls have shown that fewer adults in the U.S. have created wills than those who have. Oklahoma individuals who've made preparations frequently believe wills are enough to make sure last wishes are honored and heirs receive their due.

Some estate matters fall outside standard estate planning documents, which deal predominantly with the transfer of a decedent's most valuable possessions. In the hours, days and months after someone dies, surviving family members often scramble for critical information, like unexpressed burial wishes and the decedent's list of legal and financial contacts.

An informal letter of instruction can guide heirs and beneficiaries at a highly stressful time. An LOI is not a substitute for a will or trust. It's a supplement that assists heirs and fiduciaries by filling in details that are left out of formal estate planning documents.

Even if you've shared information verbally with your loved ones, it's easy for heirs to forget what you've asked them to do. A letter sets visible guidelines about arrangements for burial and the location of important papers like insurance policies, deeds, account statements, bills, identity information and online logins and passwords.

An LOI sends the message "Here's where to look for the things you need to settle my estate, the people I want you to talk to and the things I want you to do when I die." The letter may contain basic information about a safety deposit box or spell out asset distribution for sentimental or other assets not covered in a will.

Remember, a letter of instruction is a set of directions. The contents of the letter should not conflict with what's in a will, living will or trust. However, an LOI can add details to all of them. An attorney can help you design a letter of instruction by suggesting what you should include in it, based on your individual estate planning wishes.

Source:, "It's a good idea to have a 'letter of instruction' in addition to a will" Tim Decker, Dec. 08, 2013

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