Estate Planning For World Travelers: Frequently Asked Questions
Question #1: International travel is no different than domestic travel (True or False?)
False. Although all travel requires planning and can involve risk and complications, international travel requires taking extra steps and addressing additional considerations. First, you will need a passport before your travels. If you already have a passport, you need to make sure that it is current. A passport is valid for ten years for adults. If you do not already have one, you will need to complete an application and submit a photo to the State Department. It may take seven to ten weeks to get your passport, or four to six weeks if you pay a fee to expedite the process. Because of the long processing time, you must obtain or renew your passport well in advance of your trip.
Second, an international destination is most likely farther away than a domestic location. Because of the distance, it may be more difficult to handle emergencies that occur back home while you are away. Having a proper estate plan can ensure that your trusted decision-makers will act on your behalf while you are away so that emergencies can be addressed as quickly as possible even if you cannot immediately return home.
Third, because of the complexities that can arise with international travel, it may be more prudent to purchase travel insurance. You may have more connecting flights that could result in delayed travel, visit places with risky weather, or have a packed itinerary that could easily be interrupted if something should come up. Insurance will not prevent issues from occurring, but it may be able to compensate you should you suffer a financial loss due to an unexpected issue.
Question #2: If I am a recently Naturalized U.S. citizen or in the process of changing my immigration status, is there anything additional I should know before traveling internationally?
Yes! If you are a U.S. citizen, you are expected to travel (at least when re-entering the United States) with a U.S. passport. Obtaining this passport can take some time, so plan. You should be careful not to use old travel documents that are no longer valid. For example, if you still have a copy of your permanent resident card, be careful not to use that as a travel document. Doing so can create problems in documenting your status.
If you are not yet a U.S. citizen, discuss any international travel plans with your immigration attorney before leaving. Those who have already applied for a green card through the “Adjustment of Status” process should be especially careful. In many cases, traveling outside the United States while the application is still pending can be grounds for “abandonment” of your application. You can avoid this by applying in advance for a temporary travel document.
If you are already a Permanent Resident, but not yet a U.S. citizen, you should be careful to ensure you do not spend too many days outside the United States. Spending too much time outside the United States (especially more than 6 months at a time) can sometimes cause you for losing your permanent resident status.
Travelers who are in the middle of an immigration process or who only recently became U.S. citizens should make contingency plans for possible delays in re-entering the country. This may include a Powers of Attorney authorizing trusted individuals to act on your behalf if your return is delayed.
Families who may be considering relocating to another country on a more permanent basis should discuss these changes with their estate planning attorney to ensure that the estate plan does not create tax problems (whether in the United States or your new country of residence).
Question #3: What planning should I do if I am going to leave my minor child in the United States while I vacation abroad?
When leaving your minor child with a trusted person, the person must have the authority to fully care for your child while you are away. This may include seeking medical treatment, signing school permission slips, etc. Choosing a person to watch over your child does not automatically give that person the requisite authority to carry out their duties. Most states have a specific statute that outlines how this authority should be documented (the name of the document and details may vary from state to state). In many cases (including in Arizona), parents can sign a document authorizing a temporary guardian to make these important decisions.
This official document shows that you have delegated to them the authority to care for and make decisions for your child. It is important to remember that this document is only effective for a specific period (up to 6 months in Arizona), so you may need to sign a new document before the current document expires. It is also important to note that, although this document allows you to delegate the responsibility to care for your child, it does not mean that you are no longer able to care for your child. The authority you delegate is in addition to your legal rights to care for your minor child—the person you choose is a backup.
Further, if you are going to be traveling, especially without your minor child, it is essential that you have proper estate planning documents and that they are up to date. A last will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, and this document can be used to nominate a guardian for your minor child at your death if the other legal parent is unable to care for the minor child. However, the last will only become effective at your death.
In some states, you may name a person to be your minor child’s guardian in a separate writing that is referenced in your last will. One benefit to this approach is that you do not have to update your last will if you only want to change the minor child’s guardian. This document could be used to let a court know your choice for a guardian if you are alive but unable to care for your child and the other legal parent is also unable to care for the child.
Question #4: What items might I have missed that I should add to my to-do list in preparation for my trip?
In addition to the typical tasks you may do before your trip such as stopping the mail delivery and adjusting your home’s thermostat, you should be sure to take care of the following:
- Meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create an estate plan or update an existing estate plan
- Legally appoint someone to handle your financial matters while you are away
- Research how to name a medical decision-maker in the country you will be visiting if you will stay in that location for a significant period
- Contact your health insurance company to see if they will cover you while you are traveling in another country
- Research and decide whether travel insurance is necessary or advisable for your trip
- Review any existing life insurance policies to make sure that the beneficiaries are properly named and that the activities you take part in during your trip (i.e., bungee jumping, rock climbing) will not void coverage
- Apply for or renew your and your child’s passport
- Have the proper documentation prepared to legally give someone the ability to make decisions for your child while you are away
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