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Memorial Day: Remember loved ones, but plan for the future

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died serving our country. Its history dates back to 1868 when sacrifices made by soldiers in the Civil War were commemorated. It follows an tradition of decorating (originally called Decoration Day) the graves of loved ones with wreaths, flowers and flags.

The meaning of a holiday can be lost as it becomes only time off work and the official start of summer. As we remember those who have passed, we also want to address an ancillary part of an estate plan that can have a lasting impact.

Letter of final wishes

Each estate plan is going to be different based on need. A will is a cornerstone document along with powers of attorney and medical directives. These can help avoid disputes down the road and provide a legal road map for handling your estate.

A letter of final wishes is different. It is a direct communication to family and a way to communicate important information - for example, online account logins and passwords. But this letter might also express your desire for a military service or suggestions on hymns/songs to be played at a memorial service.

Structure and level of detail

Create sections to logically and thoroughly express this information. If you have something in the will that might surprise loved ones, you may want to explain the rationale for different gifts to each child.

Another section might discuss gifts made to a family trust or several children, such as a boat or family cabin in the mountains. It might be something simple like the technique to start the boat's cranky engine. Or you might need to share information on the management company that maintains a property.

More detail is often appreciated. Communicate with loved ones about how to access a letter of final wishes. You may also want to have a conversation with your attorney about this letter and ask whether it makes sense to store it with your estate plan.

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