7 Must-do’s before your summer vacation

The summer season is here! And that means travel and vacations are high on everyone’s list.

One thing that might not make it to a typical traveler’s to-do list is estate planning—but it couldn’t be more important as you prepare to enjoy the sandy beach or Rocky Mountains.

Americans spend more time planning their vacation each year than planning their estate. Knowing what would happen to your family if something happened to you is critical for travel with peace of mind. Before heading off on your summer vacation, check off a few estate planning and guardianship items first:

Establish guardianship for minor children—and not in your will. If you have minor children, there is never a good excuse to neglect this all-important step: choosing guardians for your kids. Give your children’s caretaker the legal short-term guardianship needed to make sure they can make decisions for your kids in case of an emergency, and lay out the plan for long-term guardianship if you aren’t able to raise your children. These documents deserve their own stand-alone plan, not to be buried in your will.

Complete an estate plan if you don’t have one. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan to make sure that your children don’t have to navigate the public court system and don’t have full control over your assets at 18 years old—that would be like winning the lottery!

Update an existing estate plan. Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan? A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce, another asset? Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan—before you go out of town.

Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets should be reviewed frequently to ensure the proper beneficiaries are named. If you have minor children, it is never advised to name your children outright as beneficiaries; instead you should set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention and high fees.

Review/update incapacity documents. Two very important health care documents—a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA release—will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity.

Review/update insurance. Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs? If not, it is time to update your insurance benefits before you hit the road.

Organize your legacy drawer. Be sure you have an organized file of all your account statements and your full estate plan before you go. Also include a full list of usernames and passwords to your online accounts. And be sure to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.