Estate Planning Before You Travel

Are you thinking of traveling for the holidays? In your travel plans, don’t forget your estate planning! If you plan on traveling outside of Virginia, keep in mind many other states have laws which differ from those in Virginia.

The laws regarding Powers of Attorney can especially wreak havoc on an ill-prepared family.

So long as you are within Virginia’s borders, Virginia law allows a healthy spouse to make healthcare decisions for an incapacitated spouse, even in the absence of an advanced medical directive. This means that a married couple may usually make decisions for one another during one of the spouse’s incapacity without having done any sort of prior legal planning.

A problem arises, however, when that same married couple leaves Virginia to visit another state. That other state may require a healthy spouse to possess and present a valid healthcare directive, signed by the incapacitated spouse, prior to making any decisions for the incapacitated spouse. It is very much in the realm of possibility that a couple in that scenario may find themselves in a foreign state’s courtroom trying to sort out the details … all during a time of crisis.

The same may be true for the Durable Financial Power of Attorney. It may serve you well to have your documents updated to reflect your most recent desires for agent, authorizations, or changes in the law.

When you travel, take photocopies of the powers of attorney along with you. Nearly all states recognize the validity of a photocopied power of attorney. While some states may have different rules o how the document should have been executed or some of the terms within the documents, you will be in a much better position if you have a set of the documents with you if a crisis were to arise.

Before you leave, revisit your Beneficiary Designations, Last Will, and Trust. When is the last time you took a serious look at your Will or Trust? Have you checked the beneficiary designation on your 401(k) or IRA recently? I once had a 94 year old client that still had his mother named as the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Take a few minutes to meet with an estate planning attorney to ensure your Last Will or Trust actually states what you think you remember it stating. I have counseled many people over the years, and have discovered few of them can accurately tell me what their Will or Trust actually directs.

We will often plan for weeks before taking a trip; making sure we have that “sweater in the suitcase”. But, we often fail to properly plan for the legal dilemmas we may face. Make sure your planning is secure BEFORE you travel!

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