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The summer vacation season will soon be here and many of us will travel in search of R&R or adventure this summer. To prepare for any trip, there’s always much to do. You’ll want to leave care instructions for your prized tomato plants with your neighbor and who will water your flowerpots? 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 you may forget. Are your estate planning documents (e.g., wills, medical directives, power of attorneys, guardianship papers, etc.) up to date?
If you haven’t already met with a reputable estate attorney to begin the estate planning process, it’s imperative 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 need help finding an attorney who can do it on such short notice, and it will be more expensive. Second, it doesn’t leave you proper time for review and changes if necessary. Give yourself adequate time to select an attorney, draft the proper documents, and review and sign the papers. Remember, having an unsigned will can be as dangerous as having no estate plan!
If you are among the minority of Americans with their estate planning complete, before leaving for a vacation or an extended work trip, take time to have your existing documents reviewed and updated. We recommend having your estate plan reviewed at least every four years, but sooner, any time a major life change occurs - marriage, children, divorce, moving, traveling, etc.
It’s also essential 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 driver’s license.
Depending on where you are traveling and who will do the traveling, your attorney might need to draft more 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 whoever is caring for your loved one has the authority to obtain medical care for them in the event of an emergency. Here, you would also want to leave detailed instructions about their medical history, allergies, medications, and how to reach their doctor(s).
If your adult children travel without you, they might need to have a Health Care Proxy signed, so someone can medically decide 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 decide for an adult child, or even to 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 may decide on your behalf while you are away? If something happens to you, has a successor been appointed? Have your business documents, such as the buy-sell agreement, been kept current? The time to plan for your business is when things are running smoothly, not during an emergency.
Planning for the unexpected is commonplace with travel. This is why so many people elect to buy trip insurance...if hurricanes, delays, layovers, etc., put a wrench in their travel plans.
Understandably, however, most people don’t want to think about the worst-case scenario, but estate planning should be taken care of even if you travel. Think of your trip as a friendly reminder, no different than the fire department reminding you to change the batteries in your smoke alarm every 4th of July.
Won’t it bring peace of mind to know that the only thing you must be concerned about when you’re on vacation is whether you want to go sightseeing or snorkeling? Before school gets out and vacations, go on the calendar, schedule a consultation with the attorneys at Altman & Associates at 301-468-3220.