Your Vacation Checklist Should Include Planning for Your Estate
Many of my clients come in to do their estate planning right before a major vacation or trip. Particularly if you are traveling overseas, having things in place before you go can give you great peace of mind.
Here are some thoughts on getting things done before you leave for that wonderful trip.
Make sure you have guardians in place for minor children:
If you have minor children, it’s crucial to have documents in place appointing guardians. Don’t leave this to chance, or worse, to the court to decide. Putting your choice in a legal document assures that the people you want to raise your children will do so. Which do you want your children to hear: “Your parents asked me to take care of you, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” OR “We’re not sure where you’re going to end up, but don’t worry, it will all be okay eventually.”
Be sure you have the right plan in place if you travel without the kids:
If you are going on a trip without your children, make sure whoever you are leaving them with has all the proper documents to allow them to make healthcare decisions and have temporary guardianship for the children. A friend told a story of how she went to Show Low – just a few hours away, luckily – and had to return because her daughter got something stuck in her throat. Because it wasn’t an emergency situation, the doctors wouldn’t treat the girl until my friend got there. She hadn’t left anything giving her caregiver the right to agree to treatment. Next time she went away, she had all the right documents ready.
Review and update your existing estate plan:
A big mistake I see in estate planning is the “set it and forget it” syndrome. All of us need to review our estate plan from time to time, especially as our families evolve. Certainly, you should review your plan when things change for you or your spouse. However, you should also review your plan if your children have gotten married, had babies or gotten a divorce. Check your plan to see if it still does what you want, and that no one is included that you do not want to get your property. If one of your parents has died, you may need to upgrade your plan due to an inheritance. If the trustee or executor is no longer able to serve, or no longer capable, you need to change who will serve. Let your vacation serve as the stimulus to make changes and updates.
Review your plan for minor children:
If you have named guardians, are they still the right people? If your children are off to high school next year, the guardian you picked for them as infants might not be the right fit anymore. Also, be sure to name a back-up in case your first choice cannot serve.
Review your insurance:
Check the amount of your life insurance coverage and see if it still meets your family’s needs. Consider getting long-term care insurance to help pay for the costs of long-term care (and preserve your assets for your family) in the event you and/or your spouse should need it due to illness or injury.
Review titles and beneficiary designations:
If you have a revocable living trust and have not changed titles to property and accounts to place them in the name of the trust, now is the time to do so. If you don’t, your family will have to file probate. Also, this is a good time to check beneficiary designations on your insurance and retirement plans to be sure you’ve named the right people. Once you’ve done so, you will know your estate plan will work as you intended.
Secure or review healthcare documents:
Everyone over the age of 18 needs certain documents (this is an important reminder for those of us whose adult children are just now turning 18). They are: 1) Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) for you if you are unable to make them for yourself; 2) HIPPA Authorizations, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members; and (3) Advanced Directive or Living Will to let your loved ones know what you want (and don’t want) at the end of life. Make sure you have these documents in place and with you. This is especially important for couples who are not married, or for people who rely on friends for such things, rather than family members.
Organize your accounts and documents:
Make sure that if something happens, your documents can be easily found. Then make a list of ALL of your assets and where they can be found, including user names and passwords. Print a hard copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes, put it in a safe, secure place and let someone you trust know where to find it. Be sure to include on your master list any passwords that might be needed to access your computer and files.
Last, but not least: Have a great time! You are likely going to come back safe and sound, but you’ll have great peace of mind knowing that everything’s in place in case something unexpected happens. I’m always happy to help clients put their estate plan in place before a trip.