Retirement & Financial Planning Report

You probably won’t change your will every time you buy a new car or sell stock. Therefore, you may want to leave a letter of instruction in addition to your will. In this letter you can spell out, in some detail, exactly what your assets are and how you’d like them distributed. Such a letter is not legally binding but it may help your executor locate assets and decide how to distribute them. Suppose, for example, you have some valuable watches you want to leave to your nephew or some jewelry you want a cousin to have.

That type of bequest can be handled in a letter of instruction to the executor. Your letter of instruction can be prepared on a word processor so that it’s easily updated to reflect changes in your possessions. Although your bequests should be discussed in detail with everyone concerned while you’re alive, there may be some things you’d rather not discuss during your lifetime. In that case, you might want to make a video recording, with a final message to your heirs as well as any instructions you care to provide.


The death of a loved one is a very emotional time for the survivors. People may argue over who gets that plate or who gets that picture. The more you do while you’re alive, spelling out your wishes, the easier it will be for your loved ones. Some advisers recommend that everyone have a “death drawer,” known to all the family members. In that drawer you can leave a video and a letter of instruction spelling out your wishes for your property. Even if you explain everything carefully to your heirs, it can’t hurt to go over it all again, on tape and in writing, so everyone knows exactly what you had in mind.