After months of near confinement in our homes, many of us are stir-crazy and eager to travel to a vacation destination. Although more states are opening up, there are several precautions to consider and preparations to make as you plan your summer travels.
Heed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The CDC has issued a number of recommendations for those traveling outside of their local communities within the United States. (International travel is more complex, as many countries are prohibiting entry by non-citizens.) Here are some of the issues the CDC has identified for those considering travel to another community:
- Is COVID-19 spreading in your community or at your destination? This is an important question, as you could spread the virus to another community if you are unaware you have been infected and are asymptomatic. In addition, if there are numerous COVID-19 cases in your vacation destination, you could become infected.
- Will your travel plans require you or your traveling companions to be within six feet of others during the trip? Being within six feet of others increases the chance of catching or transmitting COVID-19. If you are unable to engage in social distancing on a crowded flight, bus, or train, or if you need to stop for gas, food, or restroom breaks when traveling by car or recreational vehicle, you and your companions could be at greater risk of contracting or transmitting the virus.
- Are there governmental orders in place in your community or your destination requiring you to self-quarantine after arriving? You may be subject to local or state orders in your community or your destination that require you to self-isolate for a couple of weeks after you arrive at your destination or return home. Checking this beforehand can avoid considerable inconvenience.
While you are traveling, you should continue all of the safety practices you have been engaging in at home: frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, social distancing, wearing face masks, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Make sure your estate planning documents are in place and up to date. The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of having an up-to-date estate plan, and this need is amplified when you anticipate travel. The following are some of the most important documents and designations you should put in place or review with your estate planning attorney prior to traveling:
- Will or trust: If you do not have a will or trust, or if you have not reviewed them recently, take this opportunity to make sure these documents are in place and accurately reflect your current goals before you travel. You can then be assured that if anything happens to you, your wishes will be followed regarding who will receive your assets and when.
- Beneficiary designations and titles: If you have accounts that are to be distributed according to a beneficiary designation (e.g., life insurance policy, retirement account, etc.), make sure the beneficiaries you named are still appropriate and are consistent with your other estate planning documents. Life changes are common, so if a death or divorce has occurred, you may need to revisit your original choices. In addition, make sure that you have transferred title to any assets you acquired after creation of the trust to the trust to prevent the need for a lengthy, expensive, and public probate process in order to transfer those assets to your beneficiaries.
- Powers of attorney: Make sure you have a durable power of attorney for health care (also called a medical power of attorney or an advance health care directive). This document takes effect if you are incapacitated due to an illness or accident and authorizes a person you have chosen (your agent) to make and communicate medical decisions on your behalf—including those involving life and death—if you become too ill to make them for yourself. The Virginia Health Care Decisions Act was updated in 2009 so documents drafted prior to 2009 should be reviewed. Other related documents are also crucial: a living will that explains your end-of-life wishes and HIPAA authorizations that permit your health care providers to discuss your medical issues with those you have named. A durable financial power of attorney authorizes the agent you name to manage your finances or your business on your behalf—for example, pay bills or taxes, sell property, or access your bank or other accounts—either while you are away or if you are unable to manage these matters yourself.
- Guardian designation: If anything were to happen to you while you are traveling, the person you have named as a guardian in your will, once approved by the court, will be able to care for your minor child. If you do not name a person in your will, a court must name someone. Although the court will make the best decision it can, its choice may not be the person you would want to care for your child.
- Medical consent for minors: If you are traveling without your child, or if your child will be attending a summer camp, it is important to prepare a medical release form so the person caring for your child will have your consent to obtain medical care for your child without delay if you are unavailable. It is also important to provide your child’s caregiver with a list of your child’s medications and allergies, as well as health insurance information, so that the caregiver can make well-informed decisions regarding your child’s care if the need arises.
A vacation is about relaxation, rejuvenation, and fun. The last thing you want is for it to be marred by an avoidable crisis. You can gain substantial peace of mind by taking precautions to protect your health during your travels and by ensuring that your estate planning documents are up to date before you leave. We can help you design an estate plan that will protect you and your family if anything unexpected happens during your vacation. Then grab your bags and enjoy your getaway!
Content provided by WealthCounsel; edited by M. Eldridge Blanton, III