Now is the time of year when many of us are planning and solidifying our travel plans for the upcoming year. With so many wonderful places to visit in this world that are more accessible than ever, many of us will be jet setting across the globe.

Travel abroad can be relaxing, luxurious, and exciting, but it can also be dangerous. Even the most innocuous of issues can be exacerbated when you add a language barrier or different sets of customs and laws into the equation. Fortunately, there are easy steps to take to protect yourself.

I speak from personal experience when I tell you that you will thank yourself later.  So here is a checklist of a some important things for you to consider before they head out on their next big trip.

1) Know the Laws

Traveling overseas can be a legal minefield. You need to know the laws that govern the places you will travel no matter if they are first world countries or they are more remote.

Start by looking at the State Department’s website at Travel.State.Gov for a wealth of pertinent, current information.

The State Department also runs STEP, the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.” Sign up and each potential destination’s embassy will give your client current safety information, as well as a conduit to friends and family in an emergency.

2) Know How to Dial 911 Abroad

Here’s  list of all 911 numbers abroad–Ambulance, Fire, Police–in a bunch of different countries also from the State Department.

It’s also a good idea to print the emergency numbers of the countries your visiting and keep it with your passport.  Between battery life and spotty internet connections (or availability), you cannot rely on being able to always access a website when needed.

3) Plan for a Medical Emergency – Get Medical Travel Insurance! 

When we hear the term “travel insurance” it is often in the context of insuring against changes to our travel plans. To be clear, that type of insurance does not help you if your have a medical emergency while you are already traveling abroad.  And if you think that your health care coverage (no matter how good) will cover those medical expenses, think again.  They won’t.  While the cost of medical care is generally cheaper in other countries than here in the U.S., those costs can quickly skyrocket.  Especially if you need to be transported stateside.

An easy solution is to purchase travel medical insurance for the duration of your trip.  There are a number of providers (Peterson’s is one – click here for more information), and the coverage is generally quite affordable. For example, a person in their late 30’s traveling to Europe can receive up to $2 million in coverage for less than a one-time $136premium.  Of course, specific coverages depend on a variety of factors including the age of the traveler and the location where they will be traveling.

The American Express Platinum Card will pay treatment fees of up to $2.5 million(!). If your client is traveling alone, the company will pay up to $250 a night to have a relative come in to stay with them. And, if your client is discharged from the hospital but it’s doctor’s orders to stay around, Amex will pay for that, too.

MedJetAssist is another emergency service for travelers—with an interesting benefit. If your client has a medical emergency more than 150 miles from home, MedJetAssist will arrange for air transport back to the hospital of your client’s choice—not the nearest one, not one the company chooses, but the hospital your client chooses—and at no charge beyond what they paid for your membership.

There are a number of different membership-fee levels and benefit choices. But for example, someone under age 74 can pay $99 for MedJetAssist coverage on an eight-day trip. You can get coverage for domestic travel for a year at a cost of $185.

Get your life in order before you leave. Okay, your client has heard this message before, but it’s especially important if he or she dies or becomes disabled while out of town. Or out of the country. Encourage your clients to look at their wills (or get one if they don’t have one).

Another situation: your client is a stranger in a strange land and suddenly can’t write checks, access their accounts or otherwise manage their financial affairs. Who you gonna call? Best: the person named on your durable power of attorney or living trust. Far from best: not having either.

4) Update Your Estate Plan

If you have not done so already, now is the time to put your estate planning in place.  This means your will, possible trust, power of attorney, advance healthcare directive (i.e. medical power of attorney), and guardianship planning if you are the parent or caretaker of minor children.

If you already have these documents in place, there is no harm in reviewing them to ensure they are current with your wishes and the law.  The last thing you will want is to be relying on old documents that will no longer work when you need them to.  Consult with an estate planning attorney in your area to help with your planning or conduct a detailed review.

In the event your plane leaves tomorrow, and you don’t have any of this planning in place, at the bare minimum write down your wishes on a piece of paper in your own handwriting. This should include instructions as to who shall inherit your estate and who should raise your minor children.  You should also have this witnessed (although it not required in California if it is in your own handwriting) and leave a it with someone you trust, who is familiar with your handwriting, and who is not traveling with you. While this last minute planning will not avoid probate or conservatorship proceedings in California and is hardly a substitute for proper planning, it is better than nothing.

5) Inform Your Chosen Decision Makers 

documents in place, let the people you’ve named in them know their important role and responsibilities.  Let them know where your important documents are located so they can be quickly accessible. Connect them with your trusted advisors or at the very least provide them with their contact information.  It shouldn’t be a total surprise when they get a call from wherever you are, and have no idea what title you appointed them to means (executor, attorney-in-fact, legal representative?), what they’re supposed to do, or where your client’s important papers (financial and otherwise) can be found.

6) Make Sure Your Estate Plan, Passwords, and Other Legal Documents Are Accessible 

It certainly doesn’t make any sense to engage in this thoughtful and important planning if your plan and the legal documents that support it cannot be found. Of course, you can provide your decision-makers with copies of your estate plan, other legal documents (such as operating agreements, partnership agreements, life insurance policies, etc.), and a list of your passwords to online accounts.  You can similarly provide your trusted advisors (financial advisor, accountant, doctor, attorney) a copy of your plan or certain portions of it and inform them when and where you will be traveling. However, you may not want multiple copies of your plan floating out in the universe.  In that case you can create what’s been called a “Red File,” where you place your important estate planning documents, other legal documents, information about your accounts and other financial holdings, important health information, and passwords. This “Red File” can then be given to you decision-makers to open in case of emergency only.  That way when you return safely, it will also be easy to take back the file.

7) Create “Temporary Decision-makers”

What if your decision-makers will be traveling with you? Not a stretch for many who often name spouses, family, or close friends to make financial or health care decisions.  As a solution, you can execute new legal documents naming temporary decision-makers that they can change after you return from your trip. If a medical decision comes along that you can’t make, then you will want someone consulting with the doctors who isn’t lying in a coma next to you.

8) Carry a Copy of Your Documents With You


What if you can’t communicate, how’s anyone going to find out about those health-related papers?

Carry a paper set. (Having them accessible on a CD or flash drive presumes that in the middle of the desert, in the woods or on top of a mountain, someone’s going to have a reader around. Bad idea.)

9) Keep An Emergency ID Card In Your Wallet

Coinciding with our advice above, carry a card behind their driver’s licenses or attach it to your passport showing who should be called if there’s an emergency.

We provide emergency ID cards for our clients that list their emergency contacts, important medical information such as allergies, medical conditions, and medication. The cards also instruct emergency responders how to access an online website where they can download important health care documents.  This ensures that the people you have entrusted to care for you are informed immediately in the event of an emergency and no time is lost searching for important legal documents that state their authority to act or your intentions. We still advise clients to carry a paper copy just in case technology (or Internet connection) fails.

10) Leave a Detailed Itinerary With a Loved One

To be clear, this loved one should not be someone who is traveling with you.  Leave them with a detailed itinerary (or as detailed as you can be) about your travels. Include places you are staying at and the timeline of your travels. Whenever you arrive at a location and check-in to your hotel or other lodging, let them know that they are authorized to speak to your family or friend in case they call.  This way your loved ones can check in on you should they get concerned.  Also, they can get in touch with you in the event they need to inform you of an important event or emergency back home.  While international cell phone service is readily available, cell service may be down or you may be traveling in a bad cell service area.

While we cannot account for every emergency situation that could occur while we travel, we certainly can set up protocols that can handle most.  We hope that your travel is incident free, but why subject it to chance? Take these steps to give you and your loved ones peace of mind.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and has a passion for educating his community about estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.

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