Given the recent horrendous acts of terrorism in Nice, Brussels, Paris, Orlando and elsewhere, many travelers are concerned about becoming victims themselves. Although the chances are extraordinarily slim that it could happen to you, the truth is that thousands of people are injured and die every year while on vacation.
Therefore, here are some travel-planning steps to consider taking that could increase your peace of mind when you leave on your next vacation.
1. Write a Will or Establish a Living Trust
A large majority of Americans have no will. This estate planning document allows you to determine what will happen to your assets should you die because you get hit by a cab in London or fall overboard during your cruise around the Greek Islands. Without a will, your state of residence decides “who gets what” according to its intestate law. And as a result, the individuals who inherit your assets may not be the people you would have chosen if you had written a will. Dying without a will may also result in higher legal fees and taxes for your estate.
For some of you, setting up a living trust may be a better option than a will because a trust not only allows you to decide what happens to your property when you die, it also allows your estate to avoid probate, among other advantages.
Whether you write a will or set up a living trust, be sure to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney as well. This document is essential in case you become incapacitated and need someone to manage your affairs.
A good estate-planning lawyer can explain the differences between a will and a living trust and help you decide which one is best for you. (Full disclosure: I am one.) Also, if you already have an estate plan, make sure it is up to date – reflects your current wishes, for example – and double-check that the right people are in place to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated or for any minor children you may have.
2. Prepare Health Care Documents
Most accidents don’t result in death, but you may need to be hospitalized while you are on vacation, and if you can’t make your own medical decisions, you will need someone with legal authority to make them for you. A Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will (sometimes both are called Advanced Health Care Directives) allow you to legally appoint the person you most trust to make medical decisions on your behalf, and to terminate life support according to your wishes. Should you become incapacitated without these documents in place, a court will determine which of your family members can make these decisions on your behalf and it’s possible that the court will appoint someone you would not want in control of your medical care.
It’s also critically important that you have a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Release form. By completing it, you give your health care providers permission to talk with your family. Without it, the details of your medical condition remain “private” and those providers cannot share any information about it with anyone.
3. Purchase a Pre-Paid Funeral Plan
I know, this sounds morbid, but dying overseas will create extremely complex and expensive problems for your loved ones. They include following the specific rules of the airline that will fly your remains back home, obtaining a foreign death certificate and sometimes a statement from a physician that the death was not caused by a communicable disease. Your local funeral director can help you purchase insurance that will make the process easier for them. Also, the Neptune Society, a paid cremation service provider, will cremate your body anywhere in the world and return the ashes to your family.
4. Draft an Itinerary
Give your family peace of mind when you are traveling by providing them with a written itinerary for your trip. The itinerary should list the name, address and phone numbers of the hotels where you’ll be staying so that it will be easier for them to locate you if you’re out of cell phone range or if your phone gets lost or stolen. Include your airline and flight numbers too so they can track your travels. You can share your itinerary with everyone who might need to find you, in case of a terrorist attack or should there be an emergency back home that you need to know about.
5. Prepare a List of Your Important Financial Information
More than likely, you (and your spouse) are the only ones who know where you bank, who your financial adviser is and what your usernames and passwords are. Creating a way for a trusted friend or family member to access this critical information may mean the difference in someone being able or not able to pay your bills and other expenses if you can’t. Be sure to share the location of this information with the people designated to act for you in your Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney. Refrain, of course, from sharing it casually with a less-than-trustworthy person.
6. Have an Emergency Call List
Most of us don’t live next door to our extended family members. Therefore, having a list of who should be notified if worse-comes-to-worst, will make it much easier to contact everyone who needs to help handle your affairs because you are involved in a serious accident or even die while you are traveling. At a minimum, you should include on this list the members of your family, your significant friends, your doctor, lawyer and financial adviser together with their phone numbers, mailing and email addresses. Entrust this to at least two people who are not going on the trip with you.
7. Consider Buying Travel Life Insurance
This kind of insurance is very inexpensive because it only covers you for a limited time. Even so, research your options before you purchase a policy so you know what is covered and what is excluded.
8. Purchase an Overseas Emergency Evacuation Plan
Several companies sell plans that will cover you as well as any family members who are traveling with you if the need arises for more than basic health care while you are abroad. Some of these companies, like AirMed will fly you back to the U.S. if you are seriously hurt or become very ill while on your trip. Buying such a plan could be a wise investment.
9. Consider Buying Supplemental Health Insurance
Health insurance in the U.S. rarely covers illnesses and injuries incurred outside of the country. Even Medicare generally only pays claims incurred in the U.S. Health insurance is available for foreign travel and it is typically low cost due to the short duration of most vacations. Medicare recipients may be able to purchase a MediGap policy that would provide at least basic coverage while they are out of the country
10. Have Fun, But Be Smart
Traveling outside of the U.S. can be lots of fun, but you want to be smart about it and remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Being ready for any sort of emergency will allow you to embark on your travels with greater peace of mind, which means of course that your vacation can be all the more enjoyable and care-free.
[Editor’s Note: You can find simple guides to estate planning and inheritance planning here. You can find tips here to ensure your debt after death doesn’t hurt your loved ones. And be sure to get your free annual credit reports every year so you can make sure there are no surprises on yours that might impact your family after your death. You can also get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com to see where you stand.)
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.