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There’s a lot to think about as you plan your next vacation: what to pack, reservations to make and where to stay. Fixing your estate plans is probably not on your to-do list. Well, it should be.
Before heading abroad, experts say it’s vital to make sure these plans are well in place before you board your flight. It’s not a conversation we like to have with ourselves, let alone with our loved ones, but it’s an important one.
To help you understand the changes and exits, we spoke with Mitch Mitchell, an associate estate planning advisor at Trust & Will. In his role, he acts as 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 an attorney in private practice where he helped individuals prepare their estate plans and helped families navigate the evidence following 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 is not a substitute for having conversations with your loved ones about what happens when you are no longer around or unable to make your own decisions. Understandably, people avoid making plans because they don’t want to talk or think about something sick. But creating a plan is one of the best gifts and legacies you can leave your family. You can ease the difficulties when they are dealing with the hurt and uncertainty of your absence by giving them a guide. Talking to the family beforehand, being direct—understanding that they may not even want to talk about it—is an essential act of love. Start with small conversations or topics and build from there.”
We’ll help you facilitate that conversation. We had Mitch walk us through the process to help make sure 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 for what happens to your property when you die and to determine who is responsible for carrying out your wishes. It also addresses who will step in for you in the event of incapacity. Mitch says everyone over the age of 18 should have one.
“Something about travel makes people think about their own mortality. Of course, everyday life has more risks than air travel, but use this discomfort as a natural starting point for doing it. As with your normal routine at home, if something were to happen away from home, you’ll have the peace of mind that there’s less uncertainty if the worst happens.”
Additionally, anyone who doesn’t already have a plan should start working on their estate plan as soon as they book that trip months away.
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, an advance medical directive, and a HIPAA authorization. Your to-do list is to draft these documents (or get the forms) and sign them.
“You can fill out the documents yourself. Your state may make its own authorization forms available for free. You can work with a lawyer if you feel more comfortable with that. At Trust & Will, we enable you to create a will-based or trust-based plan online. No matter which route you choose, follow your state’s law for signing your estate planning documents: notarize forms that require a notary and have witnesses sign forms that need witnesses.
Mitch says you can and should name a digital executor or otherwise make sure your executor has the power to access your digital assets. In addition, some online services now have legacy contact features that you need to explore and set up (examples are Apple’s Legacy Contact and Google’s Inactive Account Manager).
When you put your plans in order
When should you adjust your plans? In a word: now! If you are planning to use a lawyer, you will likely need several weeks to a month or more to get an appointment, get drafts, and sign your completed documents.
“If you’re packing your bags, it’s likely 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 putting off,” says Mitch.
At Trust & Will, you can do this on your own schedule. But make sure you give yourself plenty of time to print the documents (or have them sent to you) and arrange witnesses and a notary public.
Just Get Started
“Start now. Don’t put it off for another day. How do you start? Start reading about operating 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 you want to be in charge (on death or disability) and who you want to receive your property. By checking this list, it will be easy to create your plan.
While it still won’t be the easiest conversation to have with family members, it’s one of the most important to have. The purpose of a vacation is to escape reality, relax and get some peace. Having your property plan in place as you head off on that vacation will allow you to do just that.
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