Summer Vacation Planning: If the Unexpected Happens?

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book

Summer has arrived, and many of us are already harried with planning the details of our  upcoming vacation trips.   Columnist Susan Heller has quipped: “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

Humor aside, the best and most enjoyable travel comes from traveling light.  Bring less luggage, of course, but also prepare ahead for unexpected mishaps, and then leave your worries behind.  Although traveling should be pleasurable, it does boost the odds of injury, illness or death, and you and your family should prepare for these potential threats.   Here are three smart travel tips to consider:

Pack your healthcare directives.

A power of attorney for healthcare (or “healthcare proxy”) is a simple legal document in which you name a person (“agent”) to make your medical decisions if you become incompetent.   You cannot assume that, if you become disabled while traveling, that your spouse, child or parent can make life-and-death medical decisions without a proxy.  You must appoint your agent beforehand.

Once you and your other family members create proxies, remember to bring them with you on vacation.  Most state laws provide for recognition of proxies executed in another state.  If you prefer not to carry paper documents, put scanned copies on a portable flash drive.  You also can subscribe to services, like DocuBank or Legal Directives, which issue you a wallet card allowing doctors or hospitals access to your securely-stored healthcare documents twenty-four hours a day, either online or by fax.

Along with the proxies, carry with you emergency contact information, such as the name of your primary care physician, a list of allergies and medical conditions, and a record of all current medications. Include a HIPAA release, authorizing doctors to discuss your confidential medical condition with specified family members, and a living will, detailing which end-of-life medical procedures you want – or don’t want – used on you if you have no hope of recovery.

Leave behind a financial contingency plan. 

If you become mentally disabled or die while traveling, your family may face a messy financial burden.  To prevent this, consider creating a durable power of attorney (DPOA), in which you appoint a trusted agent (“attorney-in-fact”) to run your financial affairs for you.  Unlike a healthcare agent, who can only act once you are declared mentally incompetent, your attorney-in-fact can take care of important business for you while you are away on an extended vacation.  And if you become mentally debilitated, he or she will be the only person with the legal authority to keep your financial affairs running.  Without a DPOA, a court will step in to decide who can manage your finances.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Incredibly, about 70% of us have no estate or disability plan.  We endlessly procrastinate making a will or living trust, assuming we’ll have plenty of time left.   Upcoming travel, with its increased risks, presents the opportunity for you finally to get this task done.   Your estate plan makes sure your property is passed to your family in an orderly way, without causing them undue stress, and in accordance with your wishes.   Do not set out on your summer trip without at least naming guardians to care for your minor children.   Let your family know where you have stored these planning documents.

Finally, check with your insurance agent and retirement account custodian to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date.  Years may have passed since you designated beneficiaries, and your original choices may no longer make sense because of changed circumstances (e.g., deaths, births, remarriages, or divorces).

Conveniently located in North Attleborough, we serve clients from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, especially the communities of North Attleborough, Taunton, Attleboro, Norton, Norton, Foxboro,  Wrentham, Rehoboth, Plainville, Franklin, Mansfield, Seekonk, Providence, Woonsocket, Cumberland, Pawtucket, and Lincoln.

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