Dear Mr. Market:
This entire personal finance blog is about “letters” being written to you (Mr. Market), the fictitious character that exhibits all sorts of emotions due to the gyrations of the stock market. What letter, however, is the most important one YOU could ever write?
It’s called a “Letter of Final Wishes” (LFW), or as we’ve described it to our clients at My Portfolio Guide, LLC, a “Letter to My Family: Things you should know“. On page 6 of the Spring edition newsletter of “the Guide” (click here if you have not seen it yet), we touch on this very important gesture that you can do for your family. Aside from the legalities of estate planning, this exercise is perhaps the single most loving and considerate document you can create for your family that they will forever be grateful for.
Our template (which we share below) is not a legal document and should never replace your will or living trust along with all the other ancillary documents such as a health care proxy or power of attorney.
Do you know why Casey Kasem (famous American radio personality) is now buried in Oslo, Norway? Although he had verbally told his children (from a previous marriage) that he wanted to be laid to rest in California, his wife of 30 years was moving to Norway and wanted his body there. Ultimately the courts ruled in her favor but none of this would have happened had it been clearly written out in a LFW. Don’t assume that just because you’ve verbally articulated things that they will happen once you’re gone.
A well designed LFW is a direct communication to your loved ones that covers a myriad of personal details relating to your “financial house”, legacy, and overall household. A LFW goes beyond your Last Will and Testament and is almost a check list of who, what, where, and how everything should go once you pass. Review this document annually and share it with your executor so that everything is crystal clear. Additionally, sharing it with your estate planning attorney is important as well to ensure there are no contradictions or confusion with any legal directives they may have helped you with.
As you’ll see in our LFW template, the following should be clearly written down so that there is no ambiguity and your final wishes are properly honored:
- List of personal contacts
- List of all financial, legal, and business contacts
- Exact location of all legal documents
- List of all financial/insurance accounts and associated files, documents, numbers etc
- Specific Memorial and Burial wishes (including an obituary if you wish to write it yourself or delegate)
- List of beneficiaries and any specific rationale (in your own voice/words) that you wish to clarify
- List of any debts owed by you or to you (and associated account numbers, location etc)
- Online user names/passwords, social media, email, subscriptions, and computer access
- Pet instructions…Don’t forget about Fido!
Lastly, share this article now with anyone you care about and encourage them to take care of this critical piece in their financial puzzle. They’ll be glad you did!