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The role of personal letters within estate planning

For most New Jersey residents, the topic of planning one's estate brings to mind a stack of legal documents and directives, and a body of paperwork intended to preserve assets and pass accumulated wealth down to those left behind. While there is no denial that properly drafted estate planning documents form the base, there is another type of writing that individuals should consider adding to the mix. Leaving behind personal letters can make the grieving process much easier for loved ones, and it can also guide them in understanding matters that are beyond the scope of wills and trusts.

For example, each of us holds far more personal possessions than can be addressed within a simple will. These items may hold relatively little financial value, but they can be imbued with deep personal meaning. Taking the time to write a letter or note to the intended recipients of such items can be a very meaningful gesture.

For example, an item that once belonged to a distant relative and has been passed down between generations may mean a lot to one child but little to another. By writing a letter that states which items are to go to whom, it is possible to pass on far more than a simple belonging. In this way, a measure of family history and connection across generations is preserved.

Letters can also be written that express the love and pride that one holds for individual family members or close friends. The weeks and months after a loss can be a difficult time for loved ones, and having this personal communication can help them feel closely connected to the author, even when a physical closeness is no longer possible. Each New Jersey family is unique, but virtually all can benefit from having a written reminder of the bonds that hold people together. Including personal correspondence within the context of estate planning is worth consideration.

Source: missoulian.com, "STEVE DARTY: The overlooked estate planning document", Steve Darty, Dec. 13, 2014

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