Most people are surprised at just how many documents there are in an estate plan. An estate plan is not merely a trust, it incorporates a number of other documents to help protect your finances, your children, your health, and especially your right to make your own decisions. Depending on the size of your estate, feelings of your family, and intricacy of your wishes, your estate plan can be anywhere from 4 to 14 documents—or more!

But there is one document that many attorneys undervalue—sometimes to the point of neglecting to include it altogether—that document is the Memorandum of Intent, sometimes also called the Letter of Instruction.

The Memorandum of Intent is easily overlooked because it’s not a legally binding document the way your will, power of attorney, or other estate planning documents are. The Memorandum of Intent is the letter you write to your heirs and fiduciaries expressing your hopes for the future, the reasoning behind your final decisions, and the practical details your fiduciaries may need. As this article by Bob Carlson states, “the letter of instruction is your last word on a number of issues.”

It is easy to understand why the Memorandum of Intent might be overlooked; if it’s not legally binding, how important can it really be? But the importance of the Memorandum of Intent lies in the personal nature of its contents. It is this document that can prevent family fights and bad feelings by giving an explanation for any surprise inheritances. This is the document that parents can use to leave detailed and loving instructions for the guardians of their minor children. And the Memorandum of Intent is where you let your fiduciaries know that you hope your favorite charity can continue receive an annual contribution in your name. The possibilities are endless.

The Memorandum of Intent is not—strictly speaking—a necessary document; but it is the most personal and heartfelt document in your estate plan. This one document can provide explanation and closure for the loved ones who are left behind. If you have any questions, or would like to include a Memorandum of Intent in your estate plan, please contact our office for more information. Our mission is to provide you and your family with the most comforting and complete estate planning experience possible.