Whether you’re planning to travel for a weekend getaway or a big trip out of the country, it’s a good idea to have certain estate planning documents in place. From car accidents to medical emergencies, the nature of traveling puts us at a greater risk of injury, illness, and (unfortunately) even death. A solid, up-to-date estate plan is the best way to ensure your family members and loved ones aren’t left scrambling should something happen to you while you’re away from home.
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Before you set out on your next trip, make sure your estate plan is in place and up-to-date. Here are the essential documents to include or update as part of your pre-travel estate planning checklist:
Last Will and Testament
If you’re planning to travel and still haven’t made a will, now is the perfect time to create one. While it’s unpleasant to think about the worst-case scenario happening on your trip, it will be even more difficult for your grieving family members to navigate the complex probate process if you die without recording your final wishes in a will.
A last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to leave instructions for how you want your assets distributed after your death. If you have minor children, drafting a will also allows you to appoint a guardian to care for them should something happen to you. Without a will in place, these important decisions are left up to the probate court and likely won’t be consistent with your true intentions.
Some people prefer to create a revocable living trust to oversee the distribution of their property after their death. A revocable living trust is a legal document you create during your lifetime that allows you to establish a trust for any assets you want to transfer into it. In the document, you name a “successor trustee” who will manage the trust and distribute the assets to your named beneficiaries after your death.
Many people choose to create a revocable living trust rather than a will because the assets in the trust don’t have to go through the probate process, which often saves their families time and money.
Some assets, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and 401(k)s, allow you to have beneficiary designations. These assets don’t pass under your will when you die. Instead, they are paid directly to the named beneficiaries.
If you have assets with beneficiary designations, you should review them before you travel. It’s possible that some of these beneficiaries have passed away or that you no longer want them to receive your assets. For instance, maybe you’ve gotten a divorce, but your ex-spouse is still the designated beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Update beneficiaries as needed to ensure that the right people receive your assets if anything unexpected happens to you on your trip.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney (also called a durable financial power of attorney) is a legal document that allows you to appoint someone (called your “agent”) to handle your legal, business, and financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself. When a power of attorney is made durable, it takes effect immediately upon signing the document and remains in effect if you become incapacitated.
A power of attorney is an important document to have as part of your estate plan when you travel because if you suffer an injury or accident that leaves you incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions, your agent can make sure your essential matters and personal responsibilities continue to be managed properly. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can give your agent broad authority or set limits on the actions your agent can perform on your behalf. You can give your agent the power to sign contracts, pay bills, file taxes, or manage your bank accounts.
Advance Health Care Directive
A typical advance health care directive consists of two health care documents: A living will and a health care power of attorney.
- Living Will: A living will is a legal document that outlines the medical care and end-of-life treatment you do and do not want to receive if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate these wishes directly. With this document in place, you can ensure that your doctors honor your medical preferences and that your family members don’t have to make these painful healthcare decisions for you.
- Health Care Power of Attorney: A health care power of attorney, also called a medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney for health care, grants another person (called your “health care agent” or “proxy”) authority to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated. Your health care proxy can make sure the end-of-life wishes outlined in your living will are enforced, and any medical decisions not covered by your living will are consistent with your general wishes.
HIPAA Release Form
To plan for incapacity while traveling, you should also have a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form. This form protects your sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without your consent or knowledge. By creating and signing the document, you authorize your health care provider to release your medical information to other individuals, such as your traveling companions and family members.
Need Help Drafting Your Pre-Travel Estate Plan?
While completing a pre-travel estate planning checklist isn’t nearly as fun as planning which restaurants and museums to visit on your upcoming trip, it can bring peace of mind knowing that you and your loved ones are protected if something unexpected happens.
Luckily, many of these documents are simple and inexpensive to complete. With FindLaw’s do-it-yourself Estate Planning Form Package, you can create a will, durable financial power of attorney, and health care directive and living will (plus a free HIPAA release form) from the comfort of your home. You can also create any of these documents individually to fit your needs.
If you still have questions about which documents to have in your estate plan before you travel, seek legal advice from an experienced estate planning attorney near you.