Estate Planning

Before You Pack Your Swimsuit. . .

Haley B. Bybee —

With most of the world finally back open to visitors, people are more eager to travel than ever before. Whether you are planning an African safari, a Caribbean cruise, or the ultimate Patagonia adventure, your pre-travel checklist should always include a review of your estate plan and related documents. So, before you pack your swimsuit for your next vacation, follow the steps outlined below.

  1. Call Your Estate Planning Attorney. Often, clients wait until the week before their trip to contact their attorneys about putting together an estate plan. Although it is possible to prepare and execute a set of estate planning documents within a week, it is preferable to give yourself time to consider your estate planning options and make thoughtful decisions. Depending on the complexity of your estate plan, it could take anywhere from weeks to months to complete your plan. For that reason, as soon as your book your trip (or well before you book your trip), give your attorney a call to discuss your estate plan.
  2. Review or Execute a Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy and Discuss with Your Agents. Clients are sometimes surprised to know that their “estate plans” include documents that are effective during their lifetimes. Financial Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Proxies allow you to name an agent who may make financial decisions and healthcare decisions, respectively, on your behalf. These documents are often coupled with a Living Will and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Authorization, which will guide your agents in their decision making and give them access to essential information about your health. Before you embark on your next voyage, you should not only execute these documents but also advise your designated agents of your travel plans, your banking information, healthcare wishes and, crucially, where the original documents are located. You may also wish to send copies of the documents to your agents. In the unlikely event of an accident, your agents should be ready to act and know where to find your Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, Living Will, and HIPAA Authorization.
  3. Name Guardians for Your Minor Children. Whether you are bringing your children with you or traveling solo, you should name a guardian for your minor children in your Will or in a separate document. If you fail to name a guardian for your children, after your death a court will independently select a guardian. When selecting a guardian, it is important that you discuss the decision with your child’s other parent[1] and the potential guardian. You may also include special language in your Will expressing your wishes about your child’s schooling, extracurricular activities, and general care. In addition, you may give the named guardian specific funds that may be used to renovate the guardian’s home to allow your children to comfortably live with him or her. It is recommended you revisit your guardianship designations before your vacation and every few years to ensure that the named guardian is still willing and capable of caring for your minor children.
  4. Sign Your Will and Trust. Wills and trusts are the backbone of every estate plan. They contain instructions that direct the disposition of your assets. Trusts are a particularly useful tool for avoiding probate and reducing administrative burdens in the administration of your estate. Clients generally have an idea about how they would like their assets to be distributed upon death but sometimes have difficulty determining who to name as beneficiaries if none of their descendants or close relatives survive them. Clients frequently name charities or their “heirs-at-law” (i.e., closest living relatives) as so-called “contingent beneficiaries.” Although it is unlikely that contingent beneficiaries will ever benefit from your estate, it is important to identify them in your estate plan, especially when the entire family is going on vacation together. For instance, consider the Steinberg family, late of Scarsdale, New York, who were all killed in a plane accident in Costa Rica on December 31, 2017.
  5. Tell Your Friends and/or Family Where to Find Your Documents. After taking the time to prepare and sign your estate planning documents, it is crucial you advise your friends or family where to find such documents. Copies of some documents may be accepted by some institutions, but it is important that your friends or family know where originals are kept. It is also important that your documents are accessible to your friends or family. For example, your friends or family may not have access to your safety deposit box. For that reason, we always recommend that your attorney keep an original set of your documents, and you give your attorney’s contact information to your friends or family.

Ultimately, completing your estate plan before you leave town will allow you to know that (1) someone trustworthy will be making decisions on your behalf in the event of an accident and (2) your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your death. So, before you pack your swimsuit to go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, swimming with the sharks in the Maldives, or relaxing with a drink on the beach in the Seychelles, give the Tax, Benefits, and Private Client practice group at Blank Rome a call.

[1] It is strongly encouraged for both parents to name the same guardians in their Wills as the Will of the second parent to die will control who is appointed as guardian. This is typically not a concern for parents who are in an intact marriage, but issues may arise when parents are separated or divorced.