by Ron Dorner
“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Ephesians 5:25
Who doesn’t like love letters? I know my wife does. In fact, she still gets out those letters I wrote to her more than 40 years ago and reads them!
I want to talk about a “love” letter that I can guarantee your spouse will be very thankful for and will read carefully. The sad thing is that most people never take the time to write one.
Many who are careful to have an up-to-date will or trust do not have this letter. Please give careful consideration to taking the important step of writing this special love letter.
This is a Letter of Instruction. It is best written in separate sections, allowing each to stand alone. Here are the four sections I recommend: (1) Personal letter to spouse; (2) Short-term financial instructions; (3) Asset location list; and (4) Funeral instructions.
The personal letter to spouse should be at the front and should be written with much prayer. Your surviving spouse will read this over and over. You want it to give comfort, encouragement, and to temper his or her grief. I would recommend it be handwritten.
The short-term financial instructions should attempt to answer all the financial questions and needs of your spouse for the first year. Try to answer “What should I do now?” Warn against making major changes within the first year. Suggest your preferred plan of what assets to use first, etc.
Be specific and give details. During the first year it is quite common for the survivor to be in a mental “fog.” It is wise to recommend a payout option for life insurance, annuities, and pensions. List those individuals who can give your spouse sound advice.
In your asset location list, all assets should be listed and kept up-to-date. Make a chart with each asset’s name, storage location, important numbers, estimated value, contact name and phone number. You can include a net worth statement in this area, as this information will prove valuable to your spouse and executor.
Leaving funeral instructions will greatly help the survivor. List the type of service you desire, where it is to be held, the people you wish to be involved in officiating, the cost guidelines, etc. You could even write your own eulogy to be read by a person of your choosing.
I recommend reviewing your thoughts with your spouse so there are no surprises when the instructions are to be carried out.
No love letter could be more appreciated than a Letter of Instruction. Remember that the quality of this letter requires thorough initial work with regular reviews. I recommend an annual review to be sure that everything is current.
When you finish writing your letter, store it in a safe place where your spouse can find it. Remember that within these pages lies critical financial data you will want to keep from prying eyes.
For some, it has been a long time since you have written your spouse a love letter. Don’t you think it’s about time?
Ron Dorner has worked in Grace Brethren financial and estate planning for more than 17 years. For more information, or to schedule a Financial Planning Seminar in your church, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.