This week, take a little time to write a “letter of instruction” for your family in case you are–heaven forbid–in a serious accident. When middle-age arrives and we begin to realize our mortality, we may start to wonder what life would be like if our spouse got seriously injured or died. When these thoughts come to you, then is the time for you to sit down and write a letter of instruction–or have your spouse do so. Here’s how I wrote mine:
1. Medical: Begin by telling your spouse what you desire medically in case of a serious injury. Note: You can also make end-of-life instructions (such as when to discontinue life support) on the Utah Advance Healthcare Directive form. And organ donation is often addressed when you renew your drivers license at the DMV, but you can address it here too.
2. Family / Friends: Next, I address any family issues such as who to notify first in case you are in a serious accident. You may also want to provide the contact information for any close friends or ecclesiastical leaders (i.e., your pastor or bishop) you want notified.
3. Employment: Next is employment. Provide the contact information for your boss and perhaps your HR Manager so your employer can be notified. Since I am self-employed, I provided my spouse with information on how to contact the Utah Bar, my landlord, my business insurance company, and my tax advisor. Also, I reminded my spouse to please coordinate with the Post Office to hold my mail until arrangements can be made for another attorney to take over my cases until I can return.
4. Disability: I also provided instructions on who to contact for help applying for Social Security Disability.
5. Insurance: Next, in case of my death, I provide the contact info and policy number for my life insurance policy. Likewise, if you have long term care insurance, you can include that information here too.
6. Miscellaneous: Next, I provide some suggestions to help my wife manage our vehicles since I primarily handle car maintenance for our family. Moms–not to be sexist here–in your letter to your husband, perhaps you will provide guidance on child care, assuming you primarily handle day care issues for your family. The purpose of the letter is to make it easier for your spouse to press forward in case of your disability or death. The goal is to decrease spousal stress during a difficult time.
7. Probate: Next, I suggest which attorney or law firm I trust to handle probate / trust issues, if necessary.
Lastly, you can close the letter of instructions with a few words of comfort and assurance. This letter, however, is meant to address the “business” side of your life; it is different than a “last letter to my family” where you might share personal experiences, beliefs and hopes for your children and grandchildren. After I wrote my letter of instructions, I shared it with my wife and saved a copy in our estate planning binder. I felt really good. I had taken a concrete step toward helping my family be prepared to deal with the stress that attends a serious accident.