Sample Letter of Instruction

Letter of Instruction

in the Estate of

Name: __________________________________

  1. List of Gifts not listed on the will:


______________________________ ______________________________

______________________________ ______________________________

______________________________ ______________________________

______________________________ ______________________________

______________________________ ______________________________

______________________________ ______________________________

  1. Credit Cards:

Company         Card No.         Exp. Date




Credit card insurance?___________Amount__________________________

Name of insurance company____________________Policy #____________

III. Bank Accounts and Savings Deposits

Name and Address of Bank Type Account Account Number



Bonds are located at_____________________________________________

  1. U.S. Bonds

Denomination   Number            In Name Of


Bonds are located at_____________________________________________


  1. Stocks, Mutual Funds, and Other Securities

Company Date Purchased Purchase Price Certificate # _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Carried in account number_____________maintained with____________


Name and address of broker: _____________________________________


  1. Insurance
  2. I (do)(do not) have government life insurance.

This insurance is (U.S. government life insurance)

(National Service life insurance)

(Servicemen’s group life insurance)

The policy number is____________________________________

Type of insurance _____________________________________

Amount of government insurance___________________________

The policy is located at_________________________________

  1. I have in effect the following commercial life insurance:

Company Address Policy Number Amount





These policies are located at____________________________

The following loans are outstanding against these policies:________________________________________________



  1. Primary beneficiary______________________________________

Contingent beneficiaries_________________________________

  1. Life insurance in effect upon the lives of my wife and children:

Name and relationship Company Policy # Amt Premium Due




  1. The property and casualty insurance policies presently in effect are:

Company City, State Policy # Amount

Personal liability __________ _____________ __________________



and health __________ _____________ ___________________


VII. Moneys Owed to Me

Amount            Debtor’s Name and Address





VIII. Liabilities (Loans, notes not previously listed)

Amount Lender’s name and address Date Made Date Due

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________

  1. Safe Deposit Box

Location of box_________________________________________________

Safe deposit box key located at_________________________________

  1. Valuables not listed above:

Item     Location





  1. Other Pertinent Information and Instructions:




XII. This record was last checked on: _________________________

Letter of Instruction: The Most Important Letter You Will Ever Write


“Where is Mom’s Social Security card?” It’s a common refrain when someone can’t help with their own affairs. Confusion and uncertainty compound the difficulties of dealing with a family emergency. There is a way to help those who will have to act in a family emergency. It’s called a “letter of instruction.”

How an Hour Now May Eliminate Uncertainty in Times of Family Emergencies

The letter of instruction is NOT a legal document. It does NOT replace a will or trust, a Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will, or a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. On the other hand, the letter of instruction offers practical guidance usually not contained in any legal document. It’s a good way to let to those trusted to take care of your affairs know what you would want them to know.

letter of instructionSince the letter of instruction is not a legal document, it does not need to be notarized or signed in the presence of witnesses or with any other special formality.

It is also different than the “Separate Writing” that lawyers sometimes recommend accompany a Will or Revocable Living Trust. That document directs the distribution of your personal property after your death. [For example, Aunt Sally’s watch goes to my daughter Amanda; and Grandpa’s shotgun to Billy.]

Who should write the Letter of Instruction?

A husband and wife should prepare one together. The person who handles the family financial affairs should write one for the person who will have to take over in case of death or incapacity.

When is it used?

A Will is usually not read until some time after the person’s death. The letter of instruction should be readily available and in a place where a family member or other friend can find it in the event of emergency. For example, my family knows ours is in the top left-hand desk drawer in my study.

What’s in the letter?

The letter should give the contact information for the people to be notified in the event of a family emergency, and should also tell the location of all important papers . . . and passwords! It could even spell out personal preference in how various matters are to be handled, including funeral arrangements.

It should contain the specific locations of items mentioned in the letter, such as: “My insurance papers are in my safe deposit box,” or “My Social Security file is in the bottom left-hand drawer of the living room desk.”

Who should have the letter?

You should consider making the letter available to someone outside the household. If you choose to provide a copy to the person who would most likely take over if something happened, you need to remember to send them updates when you change the letter. Mostly, however, it is important that someone be able to find the Letter in the event of an emergency.

Reprinted with permission from Maine Senior Guide.

Protecting Parent’s Home from Medicaid with Life Estate

If a person qualifies to receive Medicaid assistance while in a nursing home, the patient need only contribute their Social Security and other income, then the Medicaid program will pick up the balance of the bill. However, upon the death of the Medicaid patient, the state will want to be reimbursed for every dime it paid to the nursing home on behalf of the patient. In effect, the government has made an interest-free loan and now wants to be repaid!

But how can the estate of the deceased patient repay the state? In order to qualify for Medicaid a person can only have $2,000 of countable assets. So upon their death, they won’t have very much of anything to pay back the state, will they?

The key word above is “countable” assets. Since a home is an exempt (non-countable) asset, a person can indeed own a home (even possibly one that’s worth more than $500,000) and still qualify for Medicaid. However, following the death of the Medicaid recipient, the state will want to be repaid out of the proceeds of a sale of that home.

However, many states only make a claim against the deceased’s “probate” estate. That excludes property that passes to a named survivor automatically by law, such as certain real estate in joint names, joint bank accounts, life insurance policies, etc. So if the house passes outside of probate, then the state is out of luck in these states.

One popular method for avoiding probate of a house is simply to give it to the children outright. But then the parent no longer owns the home. Should a child be sued, divorced or go bankrupt, the house could be lost.

A better solution is to give just a “remainder interest” to the child or children. In other words, the parent continues to own the house so long as they live, and only on the death of the parent will the child come into possession of the house. Meanwhile, because ownership passes automatically to the child, it does not pass under the parent’s will—it is not probated—so the state cannot make a claim against the house (in those states that limit their right to recoup Medicaid payments to probate assets).

This is accomplished by having the parent sign a deed transferring the house to one or more children, while retaining a “life estate.” As owner of the life estate, the parent continues to have full control over and access to the house (although it cannot be sold without the child(ren) joining in on the deed). Importantly, it will continue to be classified as an exempt asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

Avoiding the look-back

The signing of such a deed will result in the parent making a gift to the child of the “remainder interest” in the house. The attorney who prepares the deed can calculate the value of the gift (it depends on the age of the parent making the gift). Because of this, it is important that the parent not apply for Medicaid for a period of at least five years to avoid the imposition of a very long penalty period.

Example: Parent, age 80, signs house over to child, retaining a life estate. For a person age 80, a gift of the remainder interest is valued at .56341. Thus, if the house is worth $300,000, the value of the gift will be $300,000 x .56341 = $169,023.

As you can see, this is not something that normally can be done when the parent is already in the nursing home and running out of funds. In order to avoid the imposition of the penalty as a result of the parent signing the life estate deed, they normally will need to wait at least five years to apply for Medicaid. Thus, they should have funds sufficient to cover nursing home expenses for at least that long. However, as an advance-planning technique it offers a great advantage of protecting the most important asset owned by the parent, the family home.

Reprinted from

Use caution when making charitable donations

The recent revelations about four cancer charities that have collectively scammed more than $187 from consumers has called for more caution when donating to charities.

Maine Attorney Janet Mills urges Maine consumers to make informed decisions about donations and not succumb to pressures from charities.  Consumers can call the Maine Office of Professional and Occupational Registration at 207-624-8603 or go online at to see if the charity and its professional fundraiser are registered.

Mills suggested always examining the organization’s purpose, how it uses its donations and what percentage of every dollar donated will actually go to the charity. ” The law cannot limit the percentage that a professional fundraiser can receive from money raised, but you can choose to give to a charity that  receives and uses more of the donations raised on its charitable mission,” the release stated.

One source of that information can be found at


Evaluate Your Driving Ability

With years of experience behind the wheel, senior drivers likely are among the safest on the road. However, skills and abilities required for safe driving do deteriorate with age. The good news is that a few simple actions often can provide older drivers with years of safe driving.

To learn more about your driving abilities to drive safely, check out the resources below. They range from self-screening exercises to professionally administered assessments and feature a variety of tools that rate everything from driving skills to physical limitations and medical conditions of senior drivers.

Do you know the rules of the road? Test your driving knowledge by taking this brief interactive quiz.

Self-Rating Tool

Learn about your driving skills and habits by answering 15 short questions in a printable online brochure, and receive quick tips for senior drivers. Learn More »

Click on the links from to take the self rating test for drivers 65 plus.

Discussing Driving with Senior Parents

Maybe it was the last time your parents picked you up at the train station when you came for a holiday visit, and you were alarmed by a change in their driving skills. Or perhaps you’re worried because your parents’ eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Whatever the reason, you know that it might be time to bring up the topic of their driving – but it’s not an easy conversation to have. In fact, a survey from the National Safety Council and found that adult children ranked talking to elderly parents about their driving more difficult than talking to them about selling their house or even funeral wishes.

“Many family members and even medical professionals are reluctant to bring up this topic,” said Elizabeth Dugan, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and author of The Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and their Families. “Driving is so closely tied to a sense of freedom and autonomy.” 

But having this conversation, difficult though it may be, is vitally important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase notably after age 80. Alarmingly, an average of 500 elderly adults are injured in the U.S. in car crashes every day. 

How can you know for sure when senior parents should stop driving and that it’s time to broach this sensitive topic? It’s not simply a matter of age; some elderly people can continue driving well into their 80s and others may have their driving compromised much earlier by illness, medication, or factors of aging. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has a helpful list of signs that indicate it may be time to limit or stop driving. The list includes things like frequent “close calls,” getting lost, issues with eyesight, and easily becoming distracted. Once you’ve decided to have the talk, here are some tips for making it comfortable and effective:

    • Take a ride to assess your parent’s driving skills yourself. It’s a great conversation starter. “It can be helpful to take a ride with your parent, and then debrief them afterwards,” recommends Dugan. “You can say, ‘I know this is difficult, but you seem to have trouble making left hand turns.'” Be especially observant about how your parent handles situations involving right-of-way. Studies of crashes involving seniors have found that failure to yield the right-of-way is one of the most common driving errors.


    • Keep your tone respectful and sympathetic. Driving represents autonomy, mobility, and social life. You’re not bringing up this topic to be cruel and take away your parent’s independence. You’re having the discussion because you love your parents and are worried about their health and safety. “You’re not saying, ‘Give me the keys,'” says Dugan, “but ‘I care for you and I want you to be as healthy, mobile and independent as possible. If you can’t drive, then we’ll work together to figure out something else.’ The tone you take can make a big difference.”


    • Provide alternative options. Follow up and help your parents find ways to continue their current activities even if they can’t drive. Perhaps friends and family members can pitch in. In many areas there are public transportation options specifically for seniors. Often church and community groups provide local senior transport too.


    • Get experts involved, if necessary. If your parent seems unreceptive to your message, schedule a medical appointment to see if illness or medication is affecting their driving. Make sure your parent has an annual eye exam. A doctor can also refer your parent to a driving clinic to have his/her skills assessed by a professional.


  • Keep an open, ongoing dialogue. Finally, don’t stop talking after just one conversation. Return to the topic periodically, and continually reassess your parent’s driving. A change in skills behind the wheel doesn’t necessarily mean going from driving anywhere to driving nowhere. A senior driver may be fine with familiar local driving, or driving only during daytime hours. “It’s not one conversation that you have to get right,” says Dugan. “Think about it as a process,” a process with the goal of keeping your parents as active as possible AND as safe as possible.

Reprinted from Liberty Mutual at


AARP warns of phone scam

The Maine AARP is warning of a new scam in which a caller asks for personal information, including passwords.

The caller claims to be from a company called MCI-ITS S-Telesy.  The caller’s phone number is 213-337-0014, according to the AARP.  The caller asks for computer personal information because of a virus they claim to be monitoring. This company name and phone number have been used in other known scams.

The AARP advised that Maine residents who receive a call from this number should contact the state Attorney General’s Office at  207-626-8800.

Victims of the scam report that the callers have foreign accents, are aggressive on the phone and will call multiple times.

AARP is urging all residents to be aware of this scam and to NEVER give out such personal information such as a Social Security number, credit card number, computer passwords or bank information to unknown sources.

For more information on how to avoid scams, go to

5 foods that fight insomnia

A good night’s sleep is one of the keys to more energy and better health. If you can’t fall asleep, or stay asleep – sleep deprivation can lead to physical and mental health issues such as dementia, sundowning and Alzheimer’s disease.  Do you have a senior loved one having trouble getting to sleep? Adding the following foods may help combat their sleeplessness. 

As we age, our sleep patterns may change. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.”

It’s natural for our senior loved ones to need a little less sleep, or to wake up more during the night. But, if restless nights are causing problems during the day and you can’t attribute it to medication or illness, then you might want to try a little food therapy. A bedtimesnack containing the right nutrients can help seniors – and the rest of us – calm the body, relax the mind and promote better sleep.

Sleep-Promoting Foods for Senior Nutrition

  1. Nutrient-Rich Fruits

Many fruits contain minerals like potassium and magnesium, which help promote sleep by relaxing the muscles and calming the nervous system. Bananas are an excellent choice. Besides being rich in both potassium and magnesium, they also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps induce sleep. Tryptophan is converted by the brain into serotonin and melatonin, says the U.S. News and World Report: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness.”

Cherries are also a rich source of melatonin, and fruits like apples, apricots and peaches contain plenty of magnesium. So, if your loved one is having trouble sleeping – and tends to crave sweets – reach for the fruit bowl.

  1. Complex Carbs

One of our Facebook users also suggested mashed sweet potato with honey as a good bedtime treat. Along with whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn, or even jasmine rice, sweet potato is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which can help increase levels of tryptophan. A small bowl of oatmeal or cereal, whole-grain crackers with a little lean protein (see below), and low-calorie, high-fiber popcorn are good choices. Oatmeal is especially good, says U.S. News, because it also has plenty of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium.

  1. Lean Protein

Lean proteins, too, are high in tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels and promotes good sleep. It’s the reason why we all end up in a turkey coma after Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to eat too much protein, or anything high in fat or deep-fried, but a dab of peanut butter on a banana, an egg on whole-grain toast, a little low-fat cheese on crackers, or a rice cake with lean turkey or fish can be satisfying and sleep-promoting snacks before bedtime.

  1. Heart-Healthy Fats

It might seem surprising, but heart-healthy fats are another good choice for some nighttime eating. “Unsaturated fats will not only boost your heart health but also improve your serotonin levels,” says the Cleveland Clinic. Think avocados, peanut butter and other nuts. such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios. Almonds, for instance, are full of protein, as well as magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation. Just be sure to avoid unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats, which reduce serotonin levels and make sleep more elusive.

  1. Warm Drinks

There’s a reason why mom always recommended that glass of warm milk at bedtime – milk, like other dairy products, contains tryptophan. “Plus, it’s a good source of calcium, which helps regulate the production of melatonin,” says U.S. News. Warm milk with a dash of honey is especially soothing. Decaffeinated herbal teas can also help, particularly relaxing herbs like chamomile or peppermint. Many people drink teas with added valerian root, an herb that has been used for centuries as a natural sedative. Avoid caffeinated beverages, though; even small amounts of caffeine can prevent sleep.

What Not to Eat Before Bed

A quick note on foods to avoid: some edibles (and drinkables) may seem like tempting nighttime treats, but may actually have a negative effect on sleep and rest. Here are a few tips for what NOT to eat before bed:

  • Anything that tends to upset the digestive system, like greasy or spicy foods
  • Eating too much before bed, as it may lead to indigestion and weight gain
  • Eating large amounts of protein, which can be difficult to digest
  • Excessive sweets: “Diets high in refined sugar can cause indigestion and trigger insulin surges that interfere with the hormones that affect sleep,” notes Dr. Oz
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages (or eat too much chocolate!) for at least three to eight hours before bed
  • Don’t use alcohol to try to fall asleep as it may initially make you sleepy, but it negatively affects the quality of sleep
  • Limit liquids before going to bed, particularly important for older adults: “It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night,” suggests nutritionist Joy Bauer on the Today Show

Reprinted from A Place for Mom.


Sleep Problems in the Elderly

It’s National Sleep Awareness Week, and there’s no better time to remind ourselves of how critical sleep is for physical, mental and emotional health — not just for seniors but for caregivers, too.Hard Facts About Sleep Problems in the Elderly

Sleep disorders are a significant source of concern — especially in the geriatric population. Changes in sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process, but sleep disorders have been implicated with increased mortality, and side effects such as dementia, cognitive impairment and falls. This week, the National Sleep Foundation urges everyone to celebrate sleep and its health benefits for National Sleep Awareness Week. We’ve put together an overview of why sleep is critical for senior health, how conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease can change sleep patterns, and what caregivers can do to make sure they get enough rest.

Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia Increase Dementia Risk

We all know a good night’s sleep is the key to feeling energetic and clear-headed the next day, but sleeping soundly is also linked to a lower risk of cognitive impairment later in life. Unfortunately, older adults are more likely to have health issues that disturb their sleep, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. A 2011 study at the University of California, San Francisco, showed a clear association between sleep-disordered breathing in older women and the risk of cognitive impairment.

“Those who developed disruptions of their circadian rhythm were also at increased risk,” reports NPR. “So were those who awoke throughout the night, tossing and turning.”

For seniors who are under some form of psychological stress, this link may be even stronger. Not only does stress affect our sleep patterns, stress in itself has been associated with dementia risk. A study in 2010 found a link between stress in middle-aged women and the later development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Kristine Yaffe, who co-authored the UCSF study, advises older adults to get regularly screened for sleep problems, so that any issues can be caught early and treated before they lead to significant cognitive impairment.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom.

Important paperwork: What to keep and for how long


If you’re like most people, you have boxes and boxes of old files cluttering your closets. You’d like to clean out but don’t know what you need to keep, and for how long. Here are recommendations from a daily money manager and Certified Professional Coach.

The most common documents are listed below, but when in doubt don’t throw it out unless you are sure you can obtain the records electronically from the bank, insurance company, etc.

These recommendations apply to both caregivers and their elderly parents’ paperwork.

Tax returns and supporting documents

Anything to do with taxes should be kept for at least seven years. The IRS has three years from your filing date to audit your return if it suspects good faith errors and you have the same amount of time to file an amended return if you find a mistake. However, the IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your income by 25 percent or more. If you fail to file a return or filed a fraudulent return, there is no limit on when the IRS can come after you. Specific items you should keep in addition to your tax returns themselves include documentation of income, alimony, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, and retirement plan contributions and any other tax deductions taken.

Medical bills and records

Keep all medical bills and supporting documentation such as cancelled checks or credit card statements until you are sure that the bill has been acknowledged as having been paid in full by you and/or your insurance company. If you are deducting unreimbursed medical expenses on your tax return, keep all supporting documentation as discussed above. Remember to keep all health-related bills including dental, eyeglasses or contact lenses, hearing aids, and over-the-counter medications, to name a few.

Retirement plan statements

Keep the quarterly statements until you receive the annual summary and if everything matches up, you can shred the quarterly statements. Keep the annual summaries until you close the account.

IRA contributions

If you made an after-tax contribution to an IRA, you will need to keep your records indefinitely to prove that you already paid tax on the money when it is time to make a withdrawal.

Brokerage statements

You must keep these until you sell the securities covered by them to prove whether you have capital gains or losses for your tax return. If you hold stocks or bonds for many years, you will need to keep the statements. The exception is if the cost basis and date of acquisition is listed on the statements. In this case, you only need to keep the year-end statements to support your tax return.

Reprinted from