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  • Ronald J. Axelrod, Rochester, NY, Business Lawyer

Survivors' Instruction Letter

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Elderly woman writing a survivor's instruction letter

A letter of instruction is a cheat sheet for anyone involved in settling your affairs. Unlike a will, this letter has no legal authority. However, it can provide an easy-to-understand explanation of your overall estate plan to your executor and lay out your wishes to your family for things not covered by the will.

When it comes to estate planning, we highly recommend that everyone, regardless of the size of their estate, prepare a letter of instruction for their surviving spouse or other family members. This letter amounts to the keys to the castle. While you are living, it is important that your spouse and children know where important estate planning documents are located and how to access them in the event of your disability or other medical or financial emergency.

elderly man hand writing notes for his survivor's letter

Your instruction letter may include:

  • The location of legal estate planning documents such as a Living Will, Living Trust, Health Care Proxies, and Powers of Attorney

  • The contact information for your attorney, accountant, financial advisor, and personal contacts who should be notified in the event of your death

  • Access to all necessary networking or digital information to access social or financial records, including account numbers, user names, and passwords

  • A detailed list of monthly payments and from which account payment is coming from

  • Instructions as to who should get items that aren't necessarily valuable but might be sentimental

  • Any personal wishes or messages to your family

elderly man taking notes while looking at his laptop


As with any other estate-planning document, your letter of instruction should be updated annually and kept in a safe place that is easily accessible by your relatives or heirs. At Ron Axelrod & Associates, our office stores all legal documents relating to your estate electronically and can forward them in an emergency. Our firm’s goal when planning estates is to make sure the plan works. Call us at (585) 203-1020 to set up an appointment and let's talk.

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