Your Will is one of the most important documents you will make when planning your estate. Without it, disputes among family members often arise, and some property may even be given to the state if no heirs can be found. But another, informal document--an "instruction letter"--can go a long way toward providing additional clarity for your beneficiaries and the Personal Representative of your estate.

While this letter is not a legal document, inclusion of certain elements can h...elp make the estate process go more smoothly. For instance, the PR needs to know where to find certain documents or how to log into certain online accounts. In addition, an instruction letter should cover three main areas:

* Funeral Wishes (whether you have already reserved and/or paid for a plot; if requesting cremation, where you would like your ashes spread; whether you would like to donate your body or tissues)

* Financial Details (assets, both monetary and otherwise; any outstanding debts; contact information of employers or financial planners)

* Personal Effects (where certain items are located; how to care for pets; personal messages to your survivors)

Specific items to include in your letter of instructions:

1. The location of your original Will.

2. Complete instructions for the burial/cremation.

3. Exhaustive list of friends, relatives, and others who should be contacted upon your death.

4. The location of all important documents, such as deeds, divorce papers, birth certificate, any other legal documents and records.

5. Any information related to membership in societies, lodges, or other such organizations. Many of them offer death benefits for named beneficiaries.

6. Where documents related to life insurance may be found, name of insurer(s), policy number(s), etc.

7. All bank account information, including the names of banks and account numbers.

8. A listing of any U.S. Savings Bonds (include names, denominations, and serial numbers).

9. A listing of any stocks or bonds (and where they can be found).

10. Any pension plan information.

11. Income tax returns, both state and federal, from the past few years.

12. A statement regarding your reasons for any unusual gifts or percentages of gifts given in your Will.

13. Location of any outstanding or recurring bills, plus a list of any outstanding personal debts.

14. Where bills and records of payment are located.

15. Any large gifts that you have given in the past few years.

Of course, the content of any instruction letter will vary according to each individual's unique needs. The main goal is to help your PR and your beneficiaries handle the process as smoothly as possible. If you have questions about prepare an instruction letter or any other aspect of estate planning, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.