The time before a vacation is often filled with overwhelming preparation from planning, packing, confirming flights or rental vehicles and hotel reservations, collecting medications to take, and more. Why would you add creating or reviewing an estate plan to your vacation to-do list? While estate planning may seem completely unrelated to vacation planning, the two have an important connection. Whether you are traveling across the state, across the country, or across the world, there is always a chance that things might go wrong. What starts out as a fun family trip could turn into a nightmare if you are incapacitated or killed. By reviewing an estate planning checklist before your vacation, you can prepare for whatever may happen. For assistance reviewing your estate plan or creating one, consider contacting an experienced Minnesota or Florida estate planning attorney with Roulet Law Firm, P.A. Call our Florida office at (941) 909-4644 or our Minnesota office at (763) 420-5087 to schedule a meeting. Or you can fill out the contact form on this page and a member of our team will reach out to you.
What Are the Basics of the Estate Planning Process?
Some people believe that estate planning is simply writing and signing a Last Will and Testament (will). Others recognize that there is much more to estate planning than simply deciding who to leave their material possessions to. While the name implies that it is just about planning for an individual’s eventual death, estate planning is actually about far more. Estate planning is about ensuring that loved ones will be cared for and prepared in the event that an individual dies or is incapacitated.
Having a comprehensive estate plan is not as complicated as it might sound. The process is relatively simple and includes the following seven steps:
- Inventory your estate: The estate planning process begins with inventorying a person’s estate. This includes material possessions as well as immaterial, such as investments, cash, real estate, businesses, and anything else that the individual may own.
- Create a will: If there are specific bequests that a person wishes to make, they will often be included in a will. The person may also use his or her will to leave the entire estate to a spouse or children or even to donate to a favorite charity.
- Form a trust: Another way to leave assets to loved ones is to form a trust, which can help to avoid probate and protect assets. The trust creator can fund the trust with as few or as many assets as he or she wishes, and place restrictions on when or how the beneficiaries can receive benefits from the trust. A trust may protect included assets from creditors or from other causes of depletion.
- Consider healthcare plans: Long-term healthcare can deplete a person’s assets quickly. Review the terms of existing healthcare plans and consider additional planning that can protect your home and life savings from long-term care and nursing home costs. To learn more, check out our guide “Save Our Home: How to Protect Your Home and Life Savings from Long-term Care and Nursing Home Costs”.
- Sign decision-making authority forms: In the event that a person is incapacitated, someone else must be able to make a variety of decisions on their behalf. To prepare for this eventuality, appropriate documents must be in place designating an agent to make those decisions, or a judge will have to appoint someone after the individual is incapacitated. The basic documents for a comprehensive estate plan include a HIPAA authorization, health care proxy or power of attorney, living will or advance directive, and a financial power of attorney.
- Purchase or increase life insurance: Some people have never considered getting life insurance, while others may have purchased only a small policy that will no longer provide for their family’s needs. Part of a comprehensive estate plan includes evaluating the person’s assets, listing the expenses the family will be left with (including normal household bills and funeral expenses), and determining whether the person needs to purchase life insurance or increase coverage to meet those needs.
- Store important documents in one place: An estate plan is only useful if the family knows it exists and can find it after the loved one’s death. After creating an estate plan, keep copies of the will, trust documents, life insurance policies, long-term care policies, and decision-making authority forms in one place. Also inform at least one other person about where to find these documents and provide the contact information for the attorney or trustee, if applicable.
While a comprehensive estate plan might include all the above steps, there are two key documents for any estate plan. These are the will and the trust. A trust helps individuals keep some or all of their estates out of probate. However, it is important to note that, while a trust may avoid probate in Florida, Florida Statutes Section 736.05053 does state that the trust is required to pay probate administration expenses and any financial obligations of the estate that the estate cannot pay. Minnesota State Statutes 501C.0505 makes a similar statement.
On the surface, estate planning seems to be about dividing a person’s assets among loved ones after the person’s death. However, the real purpose of estate planning goes a bit deeper. There are three priorities that should be considered when planning an estate:
- Providing financial security for family and other loved ones
- Ensuring that property is preserved and passed on as desired
- Avoiding disputes among relatives over who gets what
Why Should You Worry About Estate Planning Before Vacation?
When planning a vacation, most people imagine fun, adventure, relaxation, and pleasure. They might consider that things could go wrong, but these are generally such things as missed hotel reservations, a broken down rental car, or a bad sunburn. What they may not consider is that they could be seriously injured, fall ill, or even die. Unfortunately, once a person is on vacation and facing the worst, it is too late to review, update, or create an estate plan. Things could get very complicated for loved ones.
By completing an estate planning checklist before embarking on vacation, an individual heading for vacation can ensure that their plans are up to date and appropriate for their current needs. Additionally, this is a good time to ensure that all documents needed for the trip (e.g., a healthcare power of attorney) are also current and in the proper hands.
What Might Need To Change in Your Estate Plan?
Estate planning is not something that an individual does once and never looks at again. Instead, it is a collection of fluid documents that may change over time, and they frequently do. Because each individual’s estate plan is unique to that person and their specific circumstances, it is impossible to state exactly what might change over time. Some things to review that often change for many people include:
- Correcting anything that may be incorrect or outdated based on new or amended laws
- Adding or removing beneficiaries due to birth, death, marriage, or divorce
- Updating trustees or minor children’s guardians if needed
- Removing assets the individual no longer owns or adding new assets to a will or trust
- Appointing someone new as power of attorney if the person previously named is no longer available or appropriate
If you need to make any of the above changes to your estate plan, an attorney from Roulet Law Firm, P.A., may be able to assist you. In addition, if you do not have a plan in place, ask what steps you can complete before your vacation.
What Temporary Changes Might You Need To Make in Your Estate Plan?
When going on vacation, one of the items on the estate planning checklist should be temporary changes to the estate plan. Some of the plans you may have put in place for a future incapacitation or death may not be practical or appropriate if either happens while you are on vacation. Therefore, some temporary changes to the estate plan may include:
- Naming temporary guardians for children: If children are staying behind with family while the parents are on vacation, the parents may want to provide paperwork giving temporary guardianship to those family members. Alternatively, if the children are traveling with their parents and the children’s guardians would be, for example, grandparents who cannot travel, the parents may want to name a relative who can travel as a temporary guardian to retrieve the children and bring them home to the grandparents. If you have minor children and would like to learn more, check out our book "What Happens to Them: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Estate Planning".
- Naming temporary decision-makers: If a person is traveling with their spouse, who would normally be named as their healthcare proxy or financial power of attorney, each spouse may want to name a temporary alternative relative or friend in case both spouses become incapacitated.
- Organize accounts and documents: Many people no longer keep paper copies of documents and account records. They keep digital copies on their computers and phones, organized in a way that makes sense to them. Whether paper or digital, make sure that copies of important documents (e.g., the will, trust documents, guardianship paperwork, and others) are organized and easily accessible. Provide a list of websites, usernames, and passwords of accounts for the appropriate person to use if it becomes necessary.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance: Some individuals will want travel insurance and a short-term health insurance policy if their current health insurance does not provide coverage where they are traveling. The United States Department of State suggests confirming that the travel insurance covers the region where you will be traveling, medical transport back to the United States, and pre-existing conditions. Also remember to authorize someone else to speak to the travel insurance or short-term health insurance company on your behalf if needed.
What Important Documents Might You Need on Vacation That May Be Part of Your Estate Plan Documents?
There are few things more frustrating about going on vacation than not being able to find everything you need. From that swimsuit that fits to a passport, there are many things to collect. Another reason to have an estate planning checklist to go over before vacation is to determine if any of the documents that are with the estate planning documents may be required while on vacation. Some of these documents might include:
- The name and contact information of the estate planning attorney who prepared the plan, if applicable
- Copies of temporary or permanent healthcare power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, and living will or advance directive
- Proof of parental rights if traveling out of the country with children, including birth certificates, adoption paperwork, and divorce and custody agreements. These papers can be particularly crucial for adoptive parents or same-sex couples, who may be specifically targeted to show proof of parental rights in some countries.
Have You Completed Your Estate Planning Checklist Before Your Upcoming Vacation?
Vacations should be enjoyable and relaxing. Consider how much more relaxed you will be, knowing that your final wishes are clearly documented and your family will be taken care of if the worst were to happen to you. Before you leave for your vacation, ensure that your estate plan is complete and ready to implement whenever it is needed. If you need assistance creating an estate plan or going over your estate planning checklist, consider contacting an experienced Florida or Minnesota estate planning attorney with Roulet Law Firm, P.A. by calling our Minnesota office at (763) 420-5087 or our Florida office at (941) 909-4644.
If you would like to learn how to protect your home and life savings from long-term care and nursing home costs, click here to download our FREE guide Save our Home: How to Protect Your Home and Life Savings From Long-Term Care and Nursing Home Costs.
And, if you would like to learn how to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible for your family to manage your affairs during incapacity and after passing, while ensuring your assets only go to whom you want and how you want, click here to register for our FREE online masterclass.