Important legal and health information to have in place before traveling
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There are lots of things to think about when planning your next vacation: what to pack, what to book, and where to stay. Getting your estate plans in order is probably not on your to-do list. Well, it should be.
Before you leave the country, experts say it’s essential to ensure these plans are well managed before you board your flight. It’s not a conversation we enjoy having with ourselves, let alone our loved ones, but it is an important conversation.
To help you understand the ins and outs, we spoke with Mitch Mitchell, Associate Estate Planning Counsel at Trust & Will. In his role, he is an integral part of the company’s internal legal team. As an experienced estate planning and probate attorney, Mitch brings over a decade of knowledge and real-life experience to Trust & Will’s service offerings. Prior to joining Trust & Will, Mitch was a lawyer in private practice, where he helped individuals prepare their estate plans and helped families manage probate after the loss of a loved one. He is a graduate of Baylor University School of Law, where he earned a JD. Mitch lives in Houston with his wife and three young children.
“An estate plan isn’t a substitute for conversations with loved ones about what happens when you’re gone or can’t make your own decisions. Naturally, people avoid making plans because they don’t want to talk or think about anything morbid. But creating a plan is one of the best gifts and legacies you can leave your family. You can ease the pain when they’re dealing with the pain and uncertainty of your absence by giving them a roadmap. Talking ahead with your family, being direct – understanding that they may not want to talk about it either – is an essential act of love. Start with small conversations or topics and build from there.
We’ll help you facilitate that conversation. We’ve asked Mitch to walk us through the process to help ensure you’re ready to take your next vacation with peace of mind.
What is an estate plan?
Let’s start with the basics. An estate plan is a framework that describes what happens to your assets when you die and who is responsible for carrying out your wishes. It also specifies who will replace you in the event of incapacity. Mitch says everyone over 18 should have one.
“Something about traveling makes people think about their mortality. Of course, everyday life carries more risk than air travel, but use that worry as a natural inflection point to get there. As in your usual routine at home, should something happen to you away from home, you’ll have peace of mind that there’s less uncertainty should the worst happen.
Plus, anyone who doesn’t have a plan yet should get to work building their estate plan as soon as they book that trip months from now.
How to get an estate plan
There are common documents that are part of the typical estate plan. This includes a will and power of attorney, advance medical directive, and HIPAA authorization. Your to-do list is to write these documents (or get the forms) and get them signed.
“You can complete the paperwork yourself. Your state may make its power of attorney forms available free of charge. You can work with a lawyer if you feel more comfortable with it. At Trust & Will, we allow you to create a will-based or trust-based plan online. Whichever route you choose, follow your state’s law for signing your estate planning documents: authenticate forms that require a notary and have witnesses sign forms that require witnesses.
Mitch says you can and should appoint a digital executor or ensure your executor has the authority to access your digital assets. Also, some online services now have legacy contact features that you need to explore and configure (for example, Apple’s legacy contact and Google’s inactive account manager).
When to put your plans in order
When should you put your plans in order? In a word: now! If you’re considering hiring a lawyer, you’ll likely need several weeks to a month or more to get an appointment, receive drafts, and have your finalized documents signed.
“If you’re packing your bags, it’s probably too late to give your estate planning the time and attention it deserves. But don’t be discouraged! You can and should use the urgency you feel to do something you may have been procrastinating on,” says Mitch.
At Trust & Will, you can do it on your schedule. But be sure to give yourself plenty of time to print the documents (or have them mailed to you) and arrange for witnesses and a notary.
“Start now. Don’t put it off another day. How do you start? Start reading about operational documents. Then consider who you trust to be part of your estate plan.
Mitch says to start the process by making a list of who and what: who do you want to be responsible for (in case of death or incapacity) and who do you want to get your property. After checking this list, it will be easy to create your plan.
While it’s still not the easiest conversation to have with your family members, it’s one of the most important to have. The purpose of vacations is to escape reality, relax and have peace of mind. Having your estate plan in order by the time you leave for that vacation will allow you to do just that.
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