Scheduling a vacation requires much thought and planning. It may involve booking an air flight and hotel room, arranging for a rental car, making sure you have lined up activities for everyone. You plan in order to ensure that you and your family are taken care of and to ensure that nothing goes wrong.Taking care of these important items will help you travel with peace of mind. Making sure that you have addressed your estate planning needs will also give you peace of mind should something happen to your health while you are away.
1. Have your estate planning done.
If you have been procrastinating about your estate planning, use your next trip as your deadline to finally get this done. Be sure to allow adequate time to get your estate plan completed in advance of your trip. It can take several months to set up a planning meeting with your attorney and for them to draft the necessary documents to meet your goals and reflect your wishes.
2. If you already have an estate plan in place, review and update your existing plan.
There are many life events that can have an impact on your family’s estate planning. Revisions should be made any time there are changes in family (birth, death, marriage, divorce, remarriage), finances, tax laws, or if a trustee or personal representative can no longer serve. Again, be sure to allow enough time to have the changes made.
3. Review titles and beneficiary designations.
If you have a revocable trust and did not finish changing titles and/or beneficiary designations, now is the time to do so. If a beneficiary has died or if you are divorced, change these immediately. If a beneficiary is incapacitated or a minor, set up a trust for this person and name the trust as beneficiary to prevent the court from taking control of the proceeds or causing your loved one to become ineligible for federal or state benefits such as Medicaid.
4. If you have children under the age of 18, review your plan to ensure that they are properly cared for.
If you haven’t named a guardian who is able and willing to serve and something happens to you, the court will decide who will raise your kids without your input. If you have named a guardian, consider if this person is still the best choice. Name a back-up in case your first choice cannot serve. You may want to consider writing a letter of instruction to be kept with your important legal documents. This letter will outline what is important to you with respect your children to give guidance to your guardian. Select someone responsible to manage the inheritance.
5. Make sure that everyone in your family who is over the age of 18 has their health care and financial decision making documents in place.
Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have these: 1) Health Care Proxy, 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 Authorization and Release form, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members; and 3) Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, which give another person legal authority to handle all aspects of your financial affairs.
6. Review your insurance.
Check the amount of your life insurance coverage and see if it still meets your family’s needs. Additionally, check who you have named as beneficiary of any policies to be sure that they are correct. 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. Also, check to be sure that your health insurance policy will cover you wherever you are traveling.
7. Organize your accounts and documents.
It used to be that we could just point to a file cabinet and say everything was “in there.” But now so much is done online that there may not even be a paper trail. Make a list of ALL of your accounts, where they are located, and the user names and passwords, then review and update it before each trip. Print a hard copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes and let someone you trust know where to find it. Clean up your computer desktop and put your financial and other important files where they can be easily found. Be sure to include on your master list any passwords that might be needed to access your computer and files. Talk to your estate planning attorney to be sure that your Agent under your Durable Power of Attorney and your Personal Representative under your Will have the ability to access your electronic and online accounts and electronically stored information. In addition to your online accounts, let your family and loved ones know where your estate planning documents are stored and how they can access them should the need arise.
8. Talk to the people you have asked to act on your behalf.
Make sure that you speak with the people you have named as your decision makers under your health care proxy, durable power of attorney, trust and Will to be sure that they agree to act on your behalf if needed. Also, make sure that they understand what the role you have asked them to play and what your wishes are should they need to step into your shoes.
9. Talk to your children about your plan.
You don’t have to show them financial statements, but you can discuss in general terms what you are planning and why, especially when any changes are made. The more they understand your plan, the more likely they are to accept it—and that will help to avoid discord after you are gone.
Making sure that your estate plan meets you and your family’s needs takes planning. The effort is time well spent as you’ll ensure that the plan is up-to-date and reflective of your values and goals. You’ll enjoy your vacation even more knowing that your family is protected.