Estate Planning Before Travel Planning

No one plans to have an accident when they travel, but if you have the right legal documents in place, you could make the situation easier to manage.

International Travel Safety

The U.S. Department of State provides emergency services to U.S. citizens traveling outside of this country. Consider enrolling in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that provides important safety alerts about your destination countries and facilitates contact between U.S. embassies and your family you in emergency situations.

Creating or updating the right estate-planning documents before you travel could protect you from hidden risks if an emergency arises.

Traveling is a great way to relax, spend time with your family, enjoy an intimate getaway with your spouse, and see the world. Estate planning may not be a topic that comes to mind when planning your next vacation, but it should be. Unforeseen circumstances along the way could leave you or your loved ones feeling stranded in more ways than one.

Prepare For Medical Emergencies

No one plans to have an accident when they travel, but if you have the right legal documents in place, you could make the situation easier to manage. You lock the doors and water the plants before you leave on vacation. Why not take extra precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones while you’re gone, as well? Here are some estate-planning matters to consider before you take off on your next trip:

  • HIPAA authorization: You love traveling with your cousins, best friend, or your favorite neighbors. But while you’re having a good time on your U.S. vacation, if you require medical attention your traveling companions may be unable to provide the type of support you need. U.S. HIPAA regulations would restrict medical providers from sharing any of your health information with even your best friend unless you provide written authorization. If you are unable to communicate due to an injury or illness, it may be impossible for you to provide the needed authorization. Before you leave on your trip, it is a good idea to assign HIPAA authorization to at least one person in your traveling party.
  • Medical power of attorney: A healthcare proxy is someone you designate to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. For instance, you could be involved in a car accident while you are traveling and become unconscious. You will want someone traveling with you to direct your medical care until you regain consciousness. You may have established a healthcare proxy already during your regular estate planning. However, if that person is not traveling with you, it may be difficult for them to help you in an emergency situation.  
  • Living will: No one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but having a living will can help you and your traveling companions be prepared to face the worst. A living will describes your wishes for medical intervention and end-of-life care. If you face a serious medical emergency while you are on vacation, you might be subjected to medical interventions you do not wish to receive unless you have a living will and someone in your traveling party can produce it quickly.

Traveling With Children

You might think that the best scenario is to travel with your children. This way, if there is an emergency, you are there to make any medical decisions required. In some cases, however, you may require these estate planning documents:

  • Proof of parentage: Especially when crossing borders, you may need to prove that the minor children traveling with you are actually yours or that you have legal guardianship of them. It may seem like a hassle, but questions of parentage are raised to prevent kidnapping and other crimes against children. When traveling with your children, it is a good idea to bring a birth or adoption certificate. If you are traveling with someone else’s children, be sure to carry notarized travel and medical consent letters signed by their parents.
  • Guardian designation: If your child faces a medical emergency while you are traveling together, you will be there to handle it. But if you are the one hurt and unable to communicate, your child will need a guardian. Without a legal guardian designation from you, your child may not be able to travel home with one of the other adults in your traveling party. If you are traveling without your child and something happens to you, you will want to have a guardian designation in place, someone with the legal authority to care for your child in your absence.
  • Life insurance: Whether you are traveling with your children or you leave them at home, you should review your estate plan to be sure financial support is available to them if something happens to you. One of the easiest ways to be sure your children are financially taken care of is to add a life insurance policy to your estate plan.

Document Access

Getting your estate planning documents in place before you leave on your next trip is important, but they will not be useful if no one can access them when they are needed. Here’s what you need to consider about storage and sharing for your travel-related estate planning documents:

  • Store documents electronically. You’ll be able to easily access your estate planning documents from anywhere if you store a copy electronically. There are digital vault services available specifically for this purpose, or you can choose to store documents in a secured folder with an online file-sharing platform like Google Docs.
  • Know how to access documents if needed. Save a shortcut on your phone to allow you easy access to the documents you may need while you are traveling. Be sure you have any passwords necessary. Remember, in an emergency, you may not be thinking clearly or be able to remember passwords off the top of your head.
  • Share access with loved ones in case they need them. Be sure more than one person has access to your estate planning documents and that they can access them without your help. If something happens to you, someone else in your traveling party as well as someone back home may need to access the documents you prepared.

As you plan your next trip, you will take every precaution to make it a safe and pleasurable experience for yourself and your traveling companions. Don’t forget the importance of having your estate planning documents in place for yourself, your traveling companions, and your loved ones back home.

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