It’s that time of year again for estate planners: the season of calls from clients about to leave for vacation, who realize that they haven’t updated their Will in years. These clients typically want to make sure they update their documents before departure, “just in case anything happens while I’m away…”
I’ve often wondered after working on such a file whether the client’s worry is supported by evidence: are you really more likely to pass away on vacation than at home?
It’s hard to find concrete answers to this question. Many of the statistics available online focus on violence and homicide. For example, a 2011 article from CBC News indicated that for every five million Canadian travellers abroad, five were assaulted or killed in foreign countries. This number can be compared favourably (albeit imperfectly) to the Canadian homicide rate of 1.8 per 100,000 people.
Plane crashes, one of the biggest fears of vacationing clients, are also extraordinarily rare. The National Injury Council, an American non-profit organization that aims to eliminate preventable deaths, says the odds of a US person dying in a plane crash are 1 in 188,364, compared to a 1 in 103 risk of death in a car accident.
What is more difficult to measure is the risk of dying in another country from a pre-existing condition. For example, if an individual has a risk of heart attack, this risk might be exacerbated by the stresses of travel. In addition, it’s hard to determine what their outcome might be on vacation versus if the heart attack had happened on Canadian soil. I suspect much would depend on the quality of healthcare available in the destination country (and the individual’s insurance coverage for such care).
While the evidence does not necessarily support a client’s assertion that he or she should execute a new Will before taking off, I think what ultimately matters is that they have made the choice to complete or revisit their planning – a worthwhile endeavour no matter the impetus.
[An interesting side note – in my research for this blog, I found that the Government of Canada has put together a helpful “Death Abroad Fact Sheet” that practitioners may find useful should they ever have to advise a family member or friend of someone who has passed away while abroad. The fact sheet can be found here.]