Although it is difficult to think about planning for the worst-case scenario before embarking on what you hope to be an enjoyable and relaxing family vacation, it is important that you ensure your estate plan is in order for the sake of you and your loved ones. Unfortunately, whether it is a transatlantic flight to Europe, a road trip to the beach for summer vacation, or a random accident while traveling, “what-ifs” can become a reality; and when they do, you want to have peace of mind that your family will not be left to clean up a mess of legal matters. The following are 4 estate planning tasks to check off your list before you leave for a stress-free vacation.
1. Complete or Update Your Estate Plan.
Many people will put off completing their estate plan for many reasons and now is the perfect time to either complete one or update an existing one. Starting with what you can afford is also a great option. For example, incapacity or end-of-life documents such as a General Durable Power of Attorney (for your finances), Medical Power of Attorney, and Advance Directive (Living Will) are a great place to start. These documents will ensure that your wishes about your medical treatment end-of-life care, and funeral instructions are known and followed. In addition, they take those weighty decisions off your loved ones during an already complicated time. Working with an attorney, rather than finding a do-it-yourself form online, is highly recommended.
You should consult an attorney to find out if a will or a trust is best for your unique situation. Even if you already have an existing will or trust, you should review it annually and update it as changes occur in your family, finances, tax law, or the willingness or mental capacity of your designated trustee or personal representative. Life events such as birth, sickness, death, moving, marriage, divorce, and remarriage will all have an impact on your will or trust. Take note of them and work with an attorney to make the appropriate changes to your estate plan.
Signatures. If you have been reviewing documents but have not officially signed anything, call your estate planning attorney to set up a proper execution meeting (with a notary and two witnesses), instead of putting it off until you return from vacation. You can always update your will or trust, but you need to make sure that any changes are valid and properly executed.
2. Designate Guardians for Minor Children.
If you are traveling with or without your children, you should complete or update the necessary documents containing your guardian nominations for the care of your children in the unlikely but possible event that something were to happen to you. You do not want to run the risk of this decision being left up to chance or to the court without your input. If you already have named guardians, are they still the right fit? Consider a change in circumstances, however small, such as you named the guardian when your children were infants and now they are teenagers with an established community. In addition, you should name a backup guardian in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve.
If you are traveling without your children, you should have a short-term plan with your caretaker to give them temporary legal guardianship and the ability to make healthcare decisions for your children in case of an emergency. Contact an attorney to help you prepare these documents.
3. Review and Update Beneficiary Designations, Titles, and Other Trust Funding.
Take a moment to review your IRA, 410(k), and life insurance beneficiary designations. If any of your beneficiaries are either minors or incapacitated, you should consider setting up a trust to ensure the court or someone appointed by the court won’t take control of the proceeds contrary to your wishes. And most of all, you don't want your 18 year-old inheriting your entire estate all at once!
Additionally, you should review the funding of any trusts with your estate planning attorney to ensure everything is in place. For example, if you have recently bought a new home or opened a new bank account, you need to make sure you have the proper title. Too often people forget to fund their trust which can cause problems and delay after you die or become incapacitated. There is no point in having a trust if it is not properly funded!
4. Organize Your Documents and Make Them Accessible.
Check that you have all your important documents in a safe location. Your loved ones will need your original will, so if you have misplaced it and need to execute a new one, do so as soon as possible. For some documents, including your Powers of Attorney or Advance Directive, you can have multiple copies and should provide your agents and family members with a copy.
Given the number of accounts managed online, you should have your usernames and passwords stored in a place where someone can find them.
Your Summer Vacation Awaits You But First. . . . Take the time to check these tasks off your list before you leave. Doing so will help you travel with peace of mind knowing that on the off chance a tragedy did occur, your wishes would be known and honored.
Have a safe and happy 4th of July!