What is a Letter of Instruction and How Do I Write One?


Legal editor, attorney

Nobody wants to put a lot of thought into what will happen when they pass away. However, having your end-of-life wishes carefully and formally outlined can save your family and loved ones from a lot of stress, uncertainty, and confusion when it comes to carrying out your last wishes.

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In addition to having a will, it's also a good idea to draft a letter of instruction. This document can help provide detailed guidance that your family and loved ones will appreciate if they are ever left to carry out your final wishes.

By having a better understanding of what a letter of instruction is, why having one is so important, and how to write one for yourself, you can check this important item off your to-do list.

What Is a Letter of Instruction?

The purpose of a letter of instruction is mostly to provide details on final wishes that may not have been explained thoroughly (or at all) in a person's will. It can be helpful to think of a letter of instruction as a document used to "fill in the gaps" left by a traditional will.

This can include anything from your preferences on what type of flowers will be at your funeral to who (if anybody) you would like to memorialize your social media accounts after your passing.

Do You Need a Letter of Instruction?

You may think it's enough to have a last will and testament in place, but attaching a letter of instruction to that will can be a wise decision for a number of reasons.

For starters, there are a lot of details that can be missed or glazed over in a traditional will. This can include information on your bank accounts, the locations of important documents in your home (such as your birth certificate), and contact information for your attorney.

Furthermore, while it's important to understand that a letter of instruction is not technically a legally binding document, it can be used if needed to help make decisions over the division of your assets after you pass.

Hopefully, this isn't an issue your loved ones will run into, but it's not uncommon for valuables or items with a lot of sentimental meaning to be disputed over among family members. With a letter of instruction, you can make sure it's 100% clear who you want to receive these assets.

A letter of instruction is also important because it can provide your loved ones with the detailed information they need to carry out your wishes in an easy and stress-free manner.

Rather than spending their time trying to locate the information they need, they can simply refer to your letter of instruction and save themselves the stress and hassle during what is already a difficult time in their lives.

Tips for Writing a Letter of Last Instruction

Now that you have a better understanding of why a letter of last instruction is so important to have, it's time to get started in drafting one. As you sit down to write, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Know what to include

Start by having a basic idea of what kinds of information you'll include in your letter of instruction. Some of the most common details included in these letters are:

  • information on bank accounts and other finances
  • desires for funeral or burial/memorial arrangements
  • wishes for the division of personal items/heirlooms
  • information on your digital life (social media account passwords, for example)

Ultimately, it's entirely up to you what you decide to include or not include in your letter of instruction. Since this is not a legally binding document, there is no specific format you need to follow, nor are there any specific details you are required to include.

You can decide to write as much or as little as you want. At the end of the day, your goal should be to draft a document that will help your loved ones carry out your last wishes as easily as possible.

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Consider following a template

If you're experiencing a little writer's block as you sit down to write a last letter of instruction, don't fret. It can be difficult to think about your last wishes—let alone write them down.

This is where it can be helpful to find and follow a letter of instruction template. You can find a number of these online from which to work. Taking a look at a letter of instruction sample can also help give you a better idea of what you may want to include or exclude in your own document.

Use Cake instead

In addition to healthcare and estate planning preferences, Cake covers many topics usually addressed in a letter of instruction. Cake is an end-of-life planning website that asks you simple questions to prompt answers that will ultimately be helpful for your loved ones someday.

You’re on the Cake blog right now! If you don’t like the idea of drawing up your own letter of instruction, start with Cake to start documenting all of your important preferences. Cake is free to use. Likewise, if you do create your own letter of instruction, upload a digital copy to Cake so you can share access with your family.

Attach a copy to your will (if you have one)

When you've completed your letter of instruction, make sure you attach it to your will. After all, these documents should go hand-in-hand, especially when you consider that your letter of instruction should ideally complement the information that's already outlined in your will.

If you're keeping digital copies of your will and letter of instruction (which is recommended), you could combine them into one PDF. 

Keep the letter updated

Even after you've written your letter of instruction and are completely happy with it, there's a good chance you'll need to go back and make edits over time. This is especially true if you have any bank account numbers or other information that changes.

It's important to keep your letter of instruction updated just as diligently as you do your last will and testament. Any time you make changes to your will, it's a good idea to revisit your letter of instruction to see if anything needs to be updated.

Save it somewhere safe

Make sure you have a safe and secure place to save your will and your letter of last instruction. Ideally, this will be a secure server where you can easily share your documents with designated people, such as close friends and family members. You should also be able to easily update and save information as needed.

This is where Cake can be a great resource. This end-of-life planning platform makes it easy for adults of all ages to be proactive about their planning. Here, you can create and save documents, including your letter of instruction, and then share 24/7 access to loved ones.

Letters of Instruction: The Bottom Line

There's a lot to think about when it comes to end-of-life planning, but you don't want to overlook the importance of writing a letter of instruction. By having this document in place and attached to your will, you can help your loved ones better carry out your final wishes while saving them stress and hassle in the process.

And remember, if you're looking for a reliable and secure platform on which to upload, update, and share your letter of instruction and/or other end-of-life-planning documents, Cake has you covered. Create your free Cake account today.

Disclaimer: The information posted on this site is provided solely for informational and educational purposes and is not legal advice or tax advice. Contact an appropriate professional licensed in your jurisdiction for advice specific to your legal or tax situation.


  1. Cussen, Mark P. "Letters of Instruction: Don't Leave Life Without One." Investopedia. December 26, 2017. www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/08/letter-of-instruction.asp

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