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Money Fix: Instructing your estate executor

Writing a letter of instruction to guide the

Writing a letter of instruction to guide the person settling your estate, can provide direction, experts say. Credit: iStock

The executor of your estate has a tough job, dealing with losing you and handling your affairs. You can help with a "letter of instruction" to accompany your will. Here's what you need to know.

The letter can be brief or lengthy, and include information not in the will, like instructions about funeral arrangements, people to notify of your passing and their contact information, passwords and logins for websites and email accounts, and the location of financial documents, says Theresa Harezlak, a financial adviser with Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill.

It can also explain your wishes. For example, "I want all my grandchildren to receive a college education," says John Olivieri, a partner in the private clients practice group at the law firm of White & Case in New York City. But remember: Your letter can't control how your heirs use their inheritance, say, for college -- or a trip to the Bahamas.

Though the letter isn't a legal document, it carries weight, so proceed cautiously. It is a discoverable piece of evidence if a controversy arises. Moreover, the executor might want to disclose what you've written to justify actions he or she has taken in line with your wishes, says Anthony Vitiello, partner and chairman of the tax and estate planning group at the law firm of Connell Foley in Roseland, N.J.

Don't create controversy or write a mean-spirited letter, says David Choi, a partner at Kurzman Eisenberg Corbin & Lever in White Plains. Consider your legacy.

Give a copy of the letter to a loved one to ensure your wishes are fulfilled.

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