Estate planning is near the top of the list of things we know we need to do but often put off. We dread thinking about the end of our lives. Regardless of how unpleasant it is, the end could come at any time, without warning. Therefore, it’s important to have all basic estate planning documents in place, like a will, medical directive and durable power of attorney. These basics are necessary, but it’s extremely helpful to your loved ones if you take it a step further and give them specific instructions that aren’t contained in your legal documents.

A letter of instruction is most helpful when it goes beyond the names of important professionals and their contact information. Think about everything that’s a part of your life – both the tangible and the intangible. For example, you might want your daughter to handle all of your financial affairs, but you’d like your son to determine what to do with your tools and classic car collection. He’s better with computers too, and you don’t want to put the burden of your entire estate on your daughter, so you can explicitly state in your letter that you want your son to close out your online accounts and reformat your computers and other digital devices. You might even have some items that you don’t want your children to handle or dispose of. Let’s say you’re a collector of old war memorabilia. Neither of your kids ever showed any interest in that stuff, and you’re worried they might just donate or throw it away. However, you know your friend at the VFW would be the perfect person to take care of your collection and distribute it in a way you’d like, you can name him to be the responsible party for those items.

There’s a growing industry that provides these services to ensure you’re including everything in your estate. However, their fees vary and some of the information they have you complete can be redundant. If fees are a concern, it’s more important to hire an estate planning attorney to help you complete your legal documents correctly, and in a way that makes the most sense for your situation.

We created a checklist to help make it easier for you to provide your loved ones with specific instructions. While it includes all the main categories that end of life planning firms have their clients complete, there could be things on the form that don’t apply to you or are missing. However, it should help any missing items stand out, to ensure you include all needed for the benefit of your loved ones.