It’s no surprise that Americans spend more time planning their summer vacations than they do planning their estate. After all, a vacation is a trip you want to go on, while the eternal “trip” is not.
However, wouldn’t you travel with more peace of mind if you knew you had taken the necessary steps to protect your family if something unthinkable should happen to you?
Just last month two local families were impacted by unexpected tragedy when their private plane, headed from Naples to Maryland, crashed in North Carolina. The four passengers – two couples who had 7 children between them, were all killed in the crash. This is heartbreaking for the families, and we can only hope that these couples had estate plans in place to protect their children.
With that in mind, you don’t want the “what ifs” of life to stop you from living. We all want go on that much-deserved and anticipated summer vacation, and we should! But before you leave, you need to tackle these important steps:
If you have children under the age of 18, you must name a guardian or guardians to ensure that they will never be left in the hands of strangers or people you wouldn’t want raising them. You can name short-term guardians in case of emergency, and then plan for long-term guardianship.
And if you are planning a romantic getaway without your children, we recommend preparing a minor’s power of attorney and health care surrogate for their caregivers. Or maybe one of your kids has been invited by a friend to go on vacation with their family. If your child will be away without you, you definitely want to give their friend’s parents these documents as well.
If it’s been awhile since you updated your beneficiary forms for retirement accounts, life insurance or other assets, it’s time for a review -- especially if there has been a major change in your life. Make sure insurance and retirement accounts are never passed on to your minor children, outside of a Trust.
If you have experienced a birth, death, marriage, divorce or other life-changing event since you last updated your estate plan, you need to be sure those changes are reflected by updating your plan.
Outside of death, unforeseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through power of attorney. You need two such documents: medical power of attorney and financial durable power of attorney. Medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are up to date.
Is your life insurance still sufficient to meet the needs of your family? If not, then you should revise your policy before you go.
If you haven’t done any of these things, it’s time to take care of business. And if it’s too late to get it all done in time for this vacation, then take the time now to get it done before the next one.
As a lawyer and mom of two active boys, Norell understands how hectic life can be! Many of us have thought about putting a plan in place, but life is distracting and we always find a way to push it off for another day. Based on her own experience and those of clients, Norell has seen how planning for our death and incapacity (even though it can be uncomfortable at first) creates an enormous amount of peace of mind.