After a year of being cooped up, many of us will hit the road in search of a little R&R or adventure this summer. In preparation for any trip, there’s always much to do. You’ll want to leave care instructions for your prized tomato plants with your neighbor. Of course, the kennel will need your dog’s updated immunization records. And you can’t forget to ask the post office to hold your mail!
While each of these “vacation checklist” items are important, there’s one critical item that you may be forgetting: having your estate planning documents (e.g., wills, medical directives, power of attorneys, guardianship papers, etc.) up-to-date.
On Island Time?
If you haven’t already met with a reputable estate attorney to begin the estate planning process, it’s imperative that you do so. Getting the proper documents in order takes time, and scrambling to have things drafted a week or two before you leave the country is not a good plan.
First, you might be hard-pressed to find an attorney who can actually do it on such short notice. Second, it doesn’t leave you proper time for review and changes if necessary. Give yourself the appropriate amount of time to select an attorney, have the right documents drafted and review and sign the documents. Remember, having an unsigned will can be as dangerous as having no will at all!
If you are among the minority of Americans who actually have their estate planning in order, prior to leaving for a vacation or an extended work trip, take time to have your existing documents reviewed and updated. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend having your estate plan reviewed at least every four years, but sooner any time that a major life changes occurs - marriage, children, divorce, moving, traveling, etc.
It’s also especially important that someone you trust has access to any important papers/passwords you have on file. If you’re traveling outside of the U.S., ask a friend to hold onto a copy of your passport and drivers license as well.
All Trips Not Created Equal
Depending on where you are traveling and who will be doing the traveling, your attorney might need to draft additional documents.
For example, if you are taking a vacation this summer, even a weekend away, and leaving a dependent (e.g., child, grandchild, spouse or parent) behind, you’ll want to have the proper documents in place so that whoever is caring for your loved one has the authority to obtain medical care for them in the event of an emergency. In which case, you’d also want to leave detailed instructions about their medical history, allergies and medications, and how to reach their doctor(s).
If your adult children will be traveling without you, they might need to have a Health Care Proxy signed, so someone can make medical decisions for them if they are unable. Even as a parent, because of privacy laws such as HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), your right to make decisions for an adult child, or to even get an update on his or her medical condition, may be limited without the proper authorizations in place.
If you are a business owner, who is authorized to make decisions on your behalf while you are away? In the event that something happens to you, has a successor been appointed? Have your business documents, such as buy-sell documents, been kept current? The time to plan for your business is while things are running smoothly, not during an emergency.
Planning for the unexpected is commonplace when it comes to travel. This is why so many people elect to purchase trip insurance...just in case hurricanes, delays, layovers, etc., put a wrench in their travel plans.
Understandably, however, most people don’t want to think about the absolute worst case scenario, but the reality is that estate planning should be taken care of regardless of whether or not you travel. To that end, think of your trip as a friendly reminder, one no different than the fire department reminding you to change the batteries in your smoke alarm every 4th of July.
After all, won’t it bring you peace of mind to know that the only thing you have to be concerned about when you’re on vacation is whether you want to go sightseeing or snorkeling?
Gary Altman is the principal and founder of Altman & Associates. He can be reached at 301-468-3220.