Before taking any trip, most people create a “to-do list” of things they have put off and want to take care of before they leave. Here is a checklist of estate planning things everyone should do before taking your next trip. Getting these things done will help you travel with peace of mind, knowing that if something happened on your trip your wishes will be in place and you have made things much easier for those you love.
1. Create your estate plan. If you have been procrastinating about getting your estate plan done, make your next trip your deadline to finally get it done. Be sure to allow adequate time to get your estate plan designed, completed and signed before you leave on your trip.
2. Review and update your existing estate plan if you have one. It is critical that you revise your estate plan any time there are changes with your family (birth, death, marriage, divorce, remarriage), finances, tax laws, or if a fiduciary like a successor trustee, agent under a power of attorney or personal representative can no longer serve. Again, be sure to allow enough time to have the changes made.
3. Review titles and beneficiary designations. If you have a revocable living trust and did not finish funding your trust and changing titles and/or beneficiary designations, now is the time to get this done. If a beneficiary has died or if you are divorced, change these immediately. If a beneficiary is incapacitated or a minor, set up a trust for this person and name the trust as beneficiary to prevent the court from taking control of the assets left to the beneficiary.
4. Review your plan for minor children. If you haven’t named a guardian who is able and willing to serve as a guardian and something happens to you, the court will decide who will raise your kids without any input from you. If you have named a guardian, consider if this person is still the best choice and always be sure to name a back-up in case your first choice cannot serve. Select someone responsible to manage the inheritance. It can be the same person has you name as a guardian but does not have to be. The only place you can name a guardian under Arizona law is a Last Will and Testament.
5. Secure or review incapacity documents. Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have these: 1) Health Care Power of Attorney, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) for you if you are unable to make them for yourself; and 2) a Living Will which states your end of life medical wishes in the event of a terminal condition; and 3) a Durable Power of Attorney that allows someone you name to handle your finances if you are unable. Most basic estate plans contain these documents.
6. Review your insurance. Review your life insurance coverage and see if it still meets your family’s needs. Consider getting disability and/or long-term care insurance to help pay for costs (and preserve your assets for your family) in the event you and/or your spouse should need it due to illness or injury.
7. Organize your accounts and documents. It used to be that we could just point to a file cabinet and say everything was “in there.” But with so much is done on the computer now that there may not be a paper trail. We recommend scanning all of your documents and emailing them to the persons listed in those documents (email your Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will to your health care agent, email your Durable Power of Attorney to your financial agent, email your Trust to your successor trustee and your Last Will and Testament to your personal representatives). Make a list of ALL of your accounts, where they are located, and the user names and passwords, then review and update it before each trip. Print a hard copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes and let someone you trust know where to find it. Clean up your computer desktop and put your financial and other important files where they can be easily found. Make a back-up copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes, and let someone know where to find it. Be sure to include on your master list any passwords that might be needed to access your computer and files. If you do have original estate planning documents, keep them in a safe place (like a safety deposit box). This is critical for your Last Will and Testament as the original document must be used in probate.
8. Talk to your children about your plan. You don’t have to show your children your sensitive financial statements, but you can discuss in general terms what you are planning and why, especially when any changes are made. The more they understand your plan, the more likely they are to accept it—and that will help to avoid fighting and hurt feelings after you are gone.