Learn why a letter of instruction is an important topic to cover with aging parents and loved ones.

It’s hard to think about and prepare to handle the changes and challenges that come with caring for an aging parent or relative. One of the best ways to handle this situation is by preparing far in advance by discussing a Letter of Instruction with your parent or relative. Having a Letter of Instruction will help make many of the important decisions that need to be made later on in life and help instruct those close to the individual on preferences or pre-made plans.  

Caring for Aging Parents: The Importance of a Letter of Instruction

July 28, 2016

Learn why a letter of instruction is an important topic to cover with aging parents and loved ones.

It’s hard to think about and prepare to handle the changes and challenges that come with caring for an aging parent or relative. One of the best ways to handle this situation is by preparing far in advance by discussing a Letter of Instruction with your parent or relative. Having a Letter of Instruction will help make many of the important decisions that need to be made later on in life and help instruct those close to the individual on preferences or pre-made plans.

A Letter of Instruction is not an actual legal document, but simply a list of commands and instructions that is prepared for people to follow when your loved one is ill or has died.

A Letter of Instruction includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. A list of legal documents and their location so someone could locate them.
  2. The location and instructions to computer programs (financial software) and file names where this information may be stored.
  3. The location and keys to any safe deposit boxes.
  4. The names and phone numbers of close family members to contact.
  5. Description of prepaid funeral arrangements. If not, a preference for one funeral home over another.
  6. A description of the type of desired funeral and whether burial, cremation, or body donation is preferred.
  7. The location of a pre-purchased burial plot or preference.
  8. A preference for charities to receive donations in your memory.
  9. Preferences for certain hospitals.
  10. A relatively current list of assets and debts, including the financial institutions where these are held.
  11. If a small business is owned, a simple logistics plan of bills to be paid, where accounts receivables are sent, the location of check books, and financial institutions where funds are held.
  12. A list of insurance policies including life, medical, disability, long-term care, and property insurance.
  13. The location of all investment account statements.
  14. The location of all deeds to property.
  15. The location of copies of tax returns.
  16. The name, address and telephone number of the following people:

            doctor(s)
            attorney(s)
            accountant(s)
            stock broker(s)
            the religious leader and house of worship

The Letter of Instruction must be in a location where you will be able to find it, such as the top drawer of a desk. The Letter of Instruction should be dated, so it will be possible to determine which version is the most current (if several different versions are found). The Letter should be updated when situations change (a change of doctors, a purchase of a burial plot, or a shift in money from one account to another). The letter does not have to be written; it can be taped (video or audio), or put on a computer file.

If already prepared, you should locate and review this important document while your loved one is still alive. It is also important to make sure that doctors and hospital administrators have copies of living wills and Medical Durable Power of Attorney forms on file. You should also have original copies of any Durable Power of Attorney documents on which you are the agent.

The Letter of Instruction should list your loved one's important advisors. In particular, contact the lawyer, accountant and stockbroker. Each will be able to give you important information you'll need for the days and weeks ahead.

By having a Letter of Instruction, you’ll have guidance on what to do and who to contact when a loved one is in need. Preparing ahead of time and being proactive will help ease the process, minimize uncertainty during the latter years of your loved one’s life, and give you peace by knowing you are following their wishes.

This article has been adapted from our Advice for Life section Aging Parents.

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