According to a Montana State University Extension educator, it is important for individuals to plan ahead for their death and to make what comes after easier for their survivors. MSU Extension has a MontGuide available providing information on how to write a letter of last instruction.

“By writing a letter of last instruction, we can provide essential information needed to relieve our survivors of needless hours of frustration and anguish as they search for the needed important documents during a time of sadness and grief,” said Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist.

When listing the location of important documents, Goetting says to be specific — a safety deposit box at a certain bank, in the bottom of the left-hand drawer of a desk, or in a cardboard box on the top-right side of the bedroom closet.

The letter will help those who are sorting through an individual’s papers to find facts for a death certificate. Other information, such as how your assets are titled, will be necessary to determine which ones must go through probate, Goetting added.

“Once you have signed and dated your completed letter, you can decide what parts, if any, you want to copy and share with family members or friends,” Goetting said. “Then make several additional copies and place in an easily accessible place. Give one to your attorney and another to your personal representative, who is named in your will to carry out the settlement of your estate.”

If a personal representative is not named in a will or an individual dies before writing one, a district judge will appoint one based on the priority list provided in Montana statutes. Goetting noted that individuals should review letters of last instruction annually or when there has been a change in a family situation, such as marriage, divorce or birth.

Alongside the MontGuide, MSU Extension also has an example worksheet to fill in the necessary information needed for the letter. The worksheet can be found at under No. 21, “Letters of Last Instruction.” It can be downloaded as a PDF or a Word document. For the MontGuide and more information, visit Copies are also available at Extension and reservation offices.