10 estate planning must-dos before you travel

No one likes to think of worst case scenarios before a trip, but there are certain estate planning documents you should have in place before you leave.

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by Sandra Beckwith
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Many travelers manage risk by purchasing trip cancellation insurance or paying for airline club memberships so they get faster help with flight re-booking.

Savvy travelers see risks from a larger perspective, though, imagining how they will manage worst-case scenarios, especially when traveling abroad.

Pre-travel estate planning is at the top of their must-do lists as they take into account what might happen if they are injured—or worse—while far from home. Here are 10 items on their checklists that you'll want to add to yours.

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1. Last will and testament

Make sure you have a current and legally binding will that appoints someone to settle your affairs, designates who will receive property and proceeds, and names guardians for any minor children.

"Without it, drastic consequences could result, such as higher than expected estate taxes, or inheritances going to unintended family members," says Eric Kramer, a trusts and estates specialist at law firm Farrell Fritz.

2. HIPPA authorization

Because of the HIPPA Privacy Rule, you'll need to give consent for a traveling companion, friend, or family member to receive medical information should anything happen to you. "The big issue we have come across here with clients that have adult children has been a lack of ability for them to get medical information from providers," says Jude Boudreaux, senior financial planner with The Planning Center.

3. Durable power of attorney

Sabrina Beaumont lives in the U.S. but is originally from France, so she frequently travels between the countries. "I had a lawyer make a durable power of attorney that gives my husband the ability to make decisions on my behalf if I become unable to. It covers everything from legal to financial claims," says the chief marketing officer of Passion Plans.

4. Healthcare proxy

Also known as a durable medical power of attorney or health care surrogate, a health care proxy allows your designee to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do that yourself. 

5. Guardian designation

Do you have children younger than 18 or are you responsible for adult family members who can't care for themselves? "Make sure that you have named a guardian plus a backup guardian if your first choice won't fulfill his duties. It would be best to choose someone responsible for managing the inheritance for your children until they come of age," says frequent traveler Chris McGuire, founder of Real Estate Exam Ninja.

6. Proof of parentage rights

If you've crossed the border from the U.S. to Canada with a child, you might already know that officials are vigilant about preventing child abduction. "When traveling overseas with a minor child, have proof of relationship such as their birth or adoption certificate, or travel and medical consent letters if you are not the child's parent or guardian," cautions Matthew Erskine, managing partner of estate planning firm Erskine & Erskine.

Reproductive and family formation lawyer Janene Oleaga says this is even more important for same-sex couples who have built their families through surrogacy, adoption, or other means. "They need to finalize parentage rights before traveling to other countries, especially those that are not friendly to same-sex couples," she says.

7. Living will

This type of advance directive "gives direction regarding the medical care of someone who is still alive although unable to communicate their wishes themselves," says Jonathan Fishbeck, founder of EstateSpace, LLC.

Living wills make sure you get the type of care you want, help you avoid unnecessary suffering if that's your choice, and minimize decision-making stress among loved ones.

8. Updated beneficiaries

If you haven't updated your will in years, it might not reflect your current wishes about beneficiaries, especially if you're divorced. "I review my will or living trust and check if I have beneficiaries that passed away," says McGuire.

9. Travel insurance

Heaven forbid you should die while traveling out of the country, but if you do, travel insurance will make a difference. "Most travel insurance policies we've seen include a provision for 'repatriation of remains,' which would help provide a shipping company to work with transporting the deceased back to their home country," says Boudreaux.

10. Financial and social media account login information

Make sure someone you trust has login information for financial, social media, and other online accounts. "It's important to record all logins, passwords, and other relevant information for these sites and accounts and name specifically who you want to have access to them. It's also a good idea to write out a detailed plan for what you would like to happen with social media accounts—do you want them to remain active or closed completely?" says NextLuxury.com travel writer Taryn Shorr.

An estate planning attorney can make sure you've got these and other documents in order before your next trip, whether it's for business or pleasure.

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Sandra Beckwith

About the Author

Sandra Beckwith

Sandra Beckwith has been writing for traditional and online publications since she sold her first magazine article while… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.