Letters Of Last Instructions

As you discuss funeral plans with your loved one, he or she might want to prepare a letter of last instructions—a document that outlines funeral arrangements and other important matters.

Preparing a Letter of Last Instructions

As your loved one prepares a letter of last instructions, he or she should consider including the following items. This information will help you and other family members in preparing obituaries, completing death certificates, and filing applications for insurance claims and government benefits.

  • Instructions about the funeral, memorial service, and preferred disposition of the body. Your loved one should also include any specific instructions for clergy and funeral directors.
  • Location of his or her will.
  • Names of friends and relatives who should be informed of the death.
  • Location of all important personal documents (birth or baptismal certificate, Social Security card, marriage or divorce papers, naturalization and citizenship papers, discharge papers from the armed services).
  • Location of membership certificates to any lodges or fraternal organizations that provide death or cemetery benefits.
  • Information about outstanding debts.
  • Location of safe deposit boxes and keys.
  • List and location of insurance policies. This should include the name of the insured, policy number, amount, company, and beneficiary for each life, health, accident, and burial insurance policy.
  • List of pension systems that may provide death benefits; e.g, Social Security, Veterans Affairs, railroad retirement.
  • List and locatoin of all bank accounts (checking and savings), stocks, bonds, real estate, and other major property (personal and business).
  • List of the names of various advisors, their addresses, and telephone numbers (lawyer, executor of the estate, life insurance agent, accountant, investment counselor).
  • Instructions concerning business operations, if any.
  • An explanation of actions taken in his or her will, such as disinheritances.
  • Personal information: full name, address and length of residence there; Social Security number; date and place of birth; father’s name and mother’s maiden name; marital status; names and addresses of children, spouse, and other members of the immediate family; schools or colleges attended and degrees and honors received; name of employer and position held.

Make sure that this letter is accessible to whoever is responsible for making funeral arrangements. This is why it is recommended that the letter not be placed in a safety deposit box or in another place where it may not be found until after other funeral arrangements have been made.

Ask your loved one to periodically review the letter to ensure that the informaiton is up-to-date. He or she may also want to consider making several copies of these instructions to give to family members, his or her lawyer, and clergy members.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from When Death Comes: Funerals and Alternative Arrangements, by Vicki L. Schmall and Clara Pratt, Publication No. EC 1243, Oregon State University Extension Service.

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