By Brendan J. King

Summer vacations bring a flurry of estate planning activity.  As families board airplanes or parents embark on that long-awaited anniversary cruise without the kids, the faint pangs of “I need to get around to signing a will someday” suddenly erupt into a 5-alarm emergency.  What’s an imminent vacationer to do?  Should you quickly download a will from the Internet the night before your departure while you wait for your online flight check-in to confirm?  How about the handwritten note on the back of the grocery list that directs who will raise the kids and where to find the life insurance policies in the spare bedroom?

For many of us, vacations are the crystallizing event where you suddenly realize you need to attend to this very critical life task.  Your kids might be young or you might have grandchildren or be most concerned about your beloved dogs – either way, you suddenly realize someone or something you love needs you to step up.

If this nagging issue has come to your attention with enough time (at least several weeks, realistically) to meet with an estate planning attorney, you might be able to quickly get an adequate set of documents in place before you leave.  If it’s truly last-minute and you can’t consult with a professional, the following information may help:

  • In most cases, it’s best to resist the temptation to use Internet documents.  Usually they are improperly prepared or signed – sometimes both, and you could end up with a false sense of security at best, or the wrong outcome for your wishes at worst.  In most cases, the default laws will send the assets where you would have specified in your will anyway (spouse, then kids, grandkids, etc.).
  • If you do use Internet documents, keep it simple – and then PROMISE yourself that you will go see an attorney as soon as you’re safely home.
  • Bear in mind that most of your assets will likely pass outside of your will: life insurance policies, retirement accounts and annuities, as well as some bank/investment accounts already have beneficiaries designated on them which supersede a will.  In a true pinch, log into those accounts and confirm you’ve named beneficiaries.  Joint ownership also supersedes a will – as long as one of the owners survives.

The bottom line is, don’t let yourself end up in this situation – at least not more than once!  Give yourself the peace of mind you and your vacation deserve. Make an appointment soon with an estate planning professional.

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