Step 6: Draft a Letter of Intent:

Our lives are messy and keeping track of what we have can get complicated. Most people have multiple bank accounts. Many have investment accounts with more than one broker. They may have multiple insurance policies with different insurance companies. And today, everyone has secret passwords to all sorts of websites. If your life is complicated for you, imagine how confusing it is for someone else (your Executor) to figure it out.

We recommend that our clients complete and maintain what we call a Family Love Letter – a confidential document that has all of their private information, including investment and savings accounts details, insurance policies, and all their other assets and liabilities. It has contact information for doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors. It includes credit card information and passwords, details about employee benefits and anything else someone would need in order to access the deceased person’s life.

We think of the love letter as a treasure map for your family and recommend you make it a habit to update it every year. Give a sealed copy to your executor each time your renew it. Some people use their birthday or anniversary as a trigger date others do it each New Year.

A Family Love Letter doesn’t have to be just about financial data. For our special needs families, we suggest that they expand this process to include all the information that a guardian will need to know about a disabled member. It can include their medical history, medications, doctors, etc.  It can also list other important personal and professional contacts. It is appropriate to include details about their likes and dislikes, services they receive and anything else that would be important to making a child’s transition to a world without parents easier. We call this a Letter of Intent and, although it is not a legal document, it is one of your most important and useful estate documents.

The Family Love Letter and the Letter of Intent are important references for managing your busy life. Among many couples, often one person is primarily responsible for the financial activities. They may know the details of the assets but the other person may not. Often one family member is the primary caregiver for a special needs child and is more intimate with their needs and wants. These documents are useful resources for anyone who may need to know what they don’t know.

The urban philosopher and great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra was fond of saying “when you get to the fork in the road, take it.” We may not always know the path we are going to take, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be prepared. For families with special needs (and others as well),  documenting the details of your life is an important way of reducing the chaos and softening the challenges of life without you.