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The importance of letters of final wishes

New York residents often approach lawyers to draft trusts, wills and powers of attorney, but there is one estate planning document that they must write themselves. Letters of final wishes do not have any impact on how assets are distributed and they carry little weight in a courtroom, but they can provide family members and loved ones with much-needed clarity and comfort during a time of great stress.

Testators write letters of final wishes to provide their family members, friends and trusted individuals with needed information that are usually not found in a will. These letters may contain the login details and passwords for online accounts, and they could also let relatives know where to find bank statements, tax returns, and other important financial documents. Letters of final wishes also allow testators to convey their personal wishes concerning matters such as their funeral arrangements or the ongoing care of their pets.

Letters of final wishes can also be used to explain why certain estate planning decisions were taken. Heirs who feel that they have been treated unfairly or others have been placed ahead of them can become extremely unhappy, and protracted and bitter legal disputes are not uncommon when wills seem at odds with what testators may have said while they were alive.

Experienced estate planning attorneys may encourage their clients to take their time and think carefully before writing their letters of final wishes, and they could also suggest that this is a situation where a lot of information may be preferable to brevity. Attorneys could also draw on their dealings with families who were frustrated by a lack of information or uncertain about what to do after a loved one had passed away to provide their clients with ideas about what to include in their letters of final wishes.

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