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When I'm Gone: A Letter to My Children

Mar 18, 2020 3 min read Susan Johnston Taylor

Key Takeaways

  • Draft a letter to your family detailing your wishes for after you're gone.
  • List all financial accounts and provide instructions on how to access them.
  • Tell your heirs how you wish for them to use their inheritance.


If you want to ensure your heirs are financially secure after you're gone, you need to give them the tools to access all the funds and assets you've left for them, and provide guidance on exactly what to look for. One way is to put this information in a letter they can read after you have passed away. While not a substitute for a will, this “letter of instruction," as it's sometimes called, can provide additional guidance for your heirs.

Inform your family and heirs about the letter before you pass away; you may even choose to discuss many of the details with them in advance.

Plans and preferences will differ depending on your individual situation, but here's a guide to how you might approach writing your last letter of instruction. You can use the basic format and insert personal details where appropriate.



Dear Family,

Now that I'm gone, I hope you will take solace in knowing I lived a long, full, happy life. Honor me by living full and happy lives yourselves, and take comfort in the many wonderful memories we've created.

Samuel is executor of my estate, so he will be in charge of handling and distributing my assets. Here are additional important details about my estate and wishes.

My funeral

I have already purchased a cemetery plot next to my beloved wife, Lydia, and Grandma and Grandpa White. I have also made arrangements with the Funeral Home for a simple, dignified burial. The cemetery plot is paid for in full, but you will need to pay for the funeral and other services out of my estate. You probably won't get the life insurance payout before the funeral, so the balance in my other accounts should cover burial costs. Please pick out a simple oak wood casket and bury me in my favorite charcoal suit.

I've asked the minister at Shady Pond Community Church to lead the memorial service, with my niece Emma playing the organ and my nephew Carl delivering my eulogy. I would like my memorial service to include the songs "Long Time Traveler" and "Amazing Grace".  In lieu of flowers, please ask that mourners make a donation in my memory to the Water's Edge Animal Rescue.

Claiming life insurance

I have a $1 million life insurance policy, payable in equal parts to my three beloved children — Samuel, Claire and Charlie — upon my death. Samuel should obtain a copy of my death certificate and call my financial professional at the given number. He will walk Samuel through the claims process and keep him updated on the status.

Samuel, Claire and Charlie, my hope is that you will use this life insurance money to pay for my grandchildren's educations or purchase homes for your families. I trust that I've given you the knowledge and advice to choose wisely. Claire, I know it's always been your dream to open a bakery, so if you still feel that itch, I encourage you to use this money to start your muffin empire. The world needs more of those carrot cake muffins!

Accessing financial accounts

In addition to life insurance, I also held the following accounts:

Individual Retirement Account at YXZ Brokerage – Account # Password

401(k) at 123 Investments – Account # Password

Checking Account at ABC Community Bank – Account # Password

Savings Account at ABC Community Bank – Account # Password

[Account numbers and institutions redacted]

Per my will, these are to be divided equally among my three children. I also hold a safe deposit box at ABC Community Bank. It contains my Social Security statements, my birth and marriage certificates, life insurance policy and other key documents, as well as Lydia's wedding ring and her pearl necklace.

Samuel is also named on the safe deposit box, so he can gain access and close it, and Claire and Charlie can do so with a copy of the birth certificate. I have two other certified copies in my file cabinet in the attic at home, just in case they are needed.

Providing other instructions

Please contact the Social Security Administration and the credit bureaus to notify them of my death. The financial institutions above also need to be notified.

Although my collection of watercolor paintings has no monetary value, I'd like Emma to have them, because she shares my appreciation for art and nature. Carl can have my leather recliner, but if he doesn't have space for it, I understand. Claire should get her mother's jewelry, Samuel can take my pocket watch and Charlie can get my cedar book case. The rest is outlined in my will.

While I realize that this is a sad time, I hope this letter provides some small comfort, as you won't have to guess at my final wishes.

Love Always,



What you can do next

Update the letter regularly as your situation evolves, and keep multiple copies in places where they'll easily be found upon your death. Be sure to tell your heirs where to access this letter. You might also include instructions on how you'd like your heirs to handle digital assets, such as email or social media accounts. If you have any special-needs dependents or pets, you can include instructions on their care.


Please consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your particular circumstances.




Susan Johnston Taylor has written about personal finance and business for The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Fast Company and U.S. News & World Report.


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