A post-mortem letter is not a required part of an estate plan and does not have the same legal leverage as other estate planning documents. Nevertheless, it can perform an important role. The post-mortem letter contains information necessary to fulfill your wishes after your death. It can help make executing your estate plan easier and more efficient than it would be otherwise.
What Should You Include in Your Post-Mortem Letter?
The post-mortem letter is intended to be read prior to your will and any other estate planning documents. It identifies the location of your will as well as any other important documents needed to execute it, including but not limited to the following:
- Investment account statements
- Titles and deeds
- Insurance policies
- Tax returns
- Credit card and bank accounts
- Safe deposit boxes
In addition to the location of documents, the post-mortem letter should contain two other pieces of information. The first is your wishes for your funeral or memorial service. The will usually isn't read until after these services take place and so it wouldn't be the place to give these instructions. The post-mortem letter is intended to be read right away, so putting the funeral instructions there would be appropriate. If you already own a burial plot in a cemetery, your post-mortem letter can include its location so your survivors do not have any trouble finding it.
If you have minor children, you should name a guardian for them in your will in order for the relationship to receive legal recognition. However, because the will typically isn't read until after the funeral, your children will probably need shelter and care prior to that time. Therefore, your post-mortem letter should contain the guardian's name and contact information so he or she can be contacted right away to take your children into his or her care.
Does a Post-Mortem Letter Have Limitations?
A post-mortem letter is not a legally binding document. Therefore, you should not use it to try to bequeath property. Otherwise, you could be inviting a legal challenge to your estate plan after death. A post-mortem letter is purely informational and lets other people know where the legally binding or otherwise significant documents can be found. Because it is not read until after your death, it does not take the place of a living will.
What Do You Do With a Post-Mortem Letter After You Have Written It?
It is a good idea to make several copies of your post-mortem letter to give to your executor and close family members. It is also a good idea to leave multiple copies of the letter so that people can find them. You may leave a copy with your will for reference, but if the letter contains the location of the will, this should not be the only copy. You should also not leave the post-mortem letter in a safe deposit box if it is the only copy because of the time it takes to access a safe deposit box after the owner's death.
Can You Write Your Post-Mortem Letter Yourself?
Since a post-mortem letter is not binding, it does not have to be legally correct and compliant. Therefore, it is appropriate for you to write it yourself if you want to. Nevertheless, AmeriEstate is available to answer questions about the post-mortem letter as well as to assist with any aspect of estate planning.