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Sample Cover Letter
-- For Sending Executed Originals to Clients
Mr. and Mrs. [Husband's Name]
Dear Mr. and Mrs. [Client Last Name]:
Enclosed are the following executed original documents dated [Signing Date], for each of you:
1. Last Will and Testament.
2. Statutory Durable Power of Attorney.
3. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
4. Declaration of Guardian.
5. Directive to Physicians.
Also enclosed is a set of copies of all of the documents, as you requested. I have kept a set of copies in my files. Finally, also enclosed are instructions on how to coordinate your life insurance benefits with your estate plan.
This letter discusses several points about your estate plan of which you should be aware. If you have any questions about any of the matters discussed in this letter, please call. I suggest that you keep this letter with your documents so that you may refer to it from time to time.
1. Revising your beneficiary designations. In order for your estate plan to be complete, you must coordinate the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies with your will. Please refer to the enclosed instructions regarding beneficiary designations.
2. Safekeeping your estate planning documents. Your documents should be kept in a safe place, and the representatives named in your estate planning documents (executor and alternate executors, trustee and alternate trustees, guardian and alternate guardians, etc.) should know where to find them. A safe deposit box at a bank is a safe place, but your representative may have difficulty gaining access to your box after your death. Therefore, most people keep their documents elsewhere. A fireproof file or safe at home is an excellent place.
3. Copies of your documents. I have a copy of your executed documents in your file at my office. You may decide to keep an extra copy of the documents at your home or office, or you may decide to give a copy to one or more of your representatives. It is possible to use a copy of your will for probate purposes if the original cannot be found. However, there is no guarantee that a copy will be accepted by the court (since a presumption arises that you revoked the will if the original cannot be found), and the procedure for getting a copy admitted to probate is more troublesome and expensive. That is why it is important to take care of the original documents.
You do not have to give your representatives or alternate representatives copies of your documents, so long as they know where to find the originals if the need arises. In some cases, giving copies to loved ones may cause more problems than it solves -- it may make it awkward to make changes to your documents, and it may increase the risk of a challenge to your documents.
If you want to make more copies of your documents, please do not remove the staples in order to remove the documents from the manuscript covers for copying. Having more than one set of staple holes in your original documents increases the chances of someone thinking that your documents are falsified. If you do not want to go to the trouble of making the copies with the documents in the manuscript covers, I will be happy to make copies of my copies at our standard per-page copy fee.
4. Personalizing your estate plan with a letter or memorandum. Because your estate planning documents are drafted to be flexible and to meet technical legal requirements, they may seem cold and impersonal. Also, there may be matters of a personal nature that you wish to express that are not covered by the documents. Frequently a good way to handle this is to leave a letter or memorandum addressed to your representative. The two most frequent uses of such a letter or memorandum are: (1) to say to whom you want items of sentimental value to go when you die; and (2) to give greater guidance to the representative regarding how to take care loved ones (usually your children) after your death. While a letter or memorandum can be very useful, there are some important points to keep in mind:
a. Letter or memo about items of sentimental value. If you are using the letter or memo to tell to whom you want particular items of sentimental value to be given when you die:
(1) Always make it clear that you do not intend to change your estate planning documents in any way. Your estate planning documents were carefully prepared at some expense to dispose of all of your property efficiently and generally in accordance with your wishes. If you write a letter or memorandum after the date of your documents which is inconsistent with your documents, there is a risk that a court will deem that you have revoked, or canceled, your estate planning documents in whole or in part, and since the letter or memo may not meet the legal requirements for a will, the letter or memo will be considered invalid. Thus, your effort to make a relatively minor change to your will or other documents could result in invalidating the whole estate plan. Don't try to change your documents without the help of a licensed attorney. If you use a letter or memo to express your wishes about particular items of property, always start the letter or memo with this language:
"I am writing this letter or memorandum to express my wishes regarding the disposition of certain things that I own that have sentimental value to me. It is my desire that my executor and the beneficiaries of my estate will honor my wishes. However, notwithstanding anything in this letter or memorandum to the contrary, I am not changing or revoking my will in any way. If there is a dispute between or among the beneficiaries of my estate about the matters discussed in this letter or memorandum, then the terms of my will shall control and this letter will have no force or effect."
(2) Don't use a letter or memorandum to cover items of significant monetary value. If you wish to leave a particular item of property to someone, and that item has real monetary value (and not just sentimental value), you should get a lawyer's help and redo your will so that the item is covered. Obviously, it is more expensive and troublesome to do this, but the letter approach doesn't work well for items of value. This is because the will, not the letter or memorandum, legally controls disposition of your property. You are depending upon your loved ones to honor the wishes expressed in the letter or memo. If they do not wish to honor the letter or memo, the terms of the will control. Obviously, if something is more valuable, the person or persons who would get the item under the terms of the will are more likely to want to disregard your letter or memo.
(3) Changing the letter or memorandum. One of the real advantages of using a letter or memo for this purpose is that you can change it from time to time without a lot of trouble and expense. Keep the letter or memo with your estate planning documents. When you want to change it, write a new letter or memo and discard the old one. Since the letter or memo is merely advisory and not controlling, it does not have to be signed with all the formality of a will or trust agreement.
b. Letter or memo giving guidance to your representatives. If you are using a letter or memo to give guidance to your executor, trustee or designated guardian:
(1) Always make it clear that you do not intend to change your estate planning documents in any way. Your estate planning documents were carefully prepared at some expense to meet technical legal requirements and to provide your representatives with a great deal of flexibility to deal with unforeseen events. I think this flexibility is important. If you do not wish to give your representatives a lot of flexibility, your documents need to be changed to be more restrictive. You can preserve the flexibility of the documents and still give personal guidance to your representatives by using a letter or memorandum. To preserve the flexibility of your documents and to keep from unintentionally revoking them, you must make it clear that your letter or memo is advisory and not controlling. Start your letter or memo with this language:
"I am writing this letter or memorandum to give the executor, trustee and guardian of my minor children guidance on matters of interest to me. This letter or memo is advisory only and does not control or supersede my estate planning documents in any way. Notwithstanding anything in this letter or memorandum to the contrary, I am not changing or revoking my will in any way. I hope that my representatives will heed my advice, but they are free to use their best judgment on all matters in accordance with the terms of my will."
(2) Changing the letter or memorandum. One of the real advantages of using a letter or memo for this purpose is that you can change it from time to time without a lot of trouble and expense. Keep the letter or memo with your estate planning documents. When you want to change it, write a new letter or memo and discard the old one. Since the letter or memo is merely advisory and not controlling, it does not have to be signed with all the formality of a will.
5. Changing or revoking your documents. You should never mark on your estate planning documents in any way. These markings could be construed as your attempt to change or revoke the documents. The laws regarding wills and trusts are very technical, and it is likely that a change that you attempt to make without a lawyer's help will not have the effect you intend. Therefore, if you wish to revoke your will or another document, please contact me or another attorney.
a. Your will. If you wish to revoke your will, be sure to do it in a way that leaves no question as to your intent. For instance, cut up the document and discard it, or conspicuously mark through the writing on every page with a large "X". Obviously, consider carefully before revoking your will unless you have replaced it with another plan.
Your will includes language revoking earlier wills you may have made. This language is effective unless you are prohibited from revoking the earlier will by the terms of a contract or other agreement. This prohibition is very rare and is likely to arise only in cases where spouses previously made a joint, or mutual, will. Therefore, unless you are subject to an agreement prohibiting you from revoking an earlier will, any earlier wills were revoked when you signed your new will. You do not need to destroy your old wills, but it generally is a good idea to destroy them to prevent confusion after your death.
b. Your statutory durable power of attorney. If you want to revoke your statutory durable power of attorney, you should contact me or another attorney. The new statutory durable power of attorney forms are easier to use but harder to revoke. You should seek my advice or the advice or another attorney if you wish to revoke it.
c. Your health care power of attorney. To revoke your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, you may either sign a new Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (which automatically revokes earlier powers) or inform your agent and health provider, preferably in writing, that you have revoked the power.
6. Updating your estate plan. You should have your estate plan reviewed by an attorney or other estate planning professional periodically to assure that it still meets your needs. Also, you should have your plan reviewed if any of the following occur:
a. The marriage, divorce, illness or incapacity of you or of any member of your immediate family.
b. The death of any member of your immediate family.
c. A significant change in your financial condition (positive or negative).
d. You move to another state or country.
e. The receipt of a large gift or inheritance.
f. You acquire property which requires special consideration and handling.
g. You change your mind about how to dispose of your property and/or who you want as your representatives.
Finally, you should have your plan reviewed if there is a significant change in the tax laws which may effect your estate.
7. My representation of you. Please read through the enclosed documents carefully over the next two weeks. If I have made any mistakes, or if there is something you do not like or understand, please call me, and I will clear things up. If I have not heard from you within two weeks, I will assume everything is the way you want it, and my representation of you in this matter will cease.
In this matter, you and you alone have been my client. I owe no duty to any of your family members or other possible beneficiaries. I have no continuing duty to update your plan or otherwise represent you. Of course, I look forward to working with you again in the future should you wish to hire me to help you with revising your estate plan or with another matter.
Thank you for allowing me to provide you with these services. Good luck, and please call if I can be of further assistance.
Very truly yours,
Comments? Problems? Email email@example.com
Copyright 1998 by Glenn M. Karisch Last Revised June 11, 1998