Military service members and their families understand how important it is to be ready for anything. They know what it is to live with the unexpected and the risk of loss every day. Deployment to conflict zones can be ordered with only a few hours’ notice. Old wounds and illnesses can flare up unexpectedly. The enemy often attacks with no warning at all.
Readiness also means making sure estate plans and legal issues are up to date for complete protection of your family. As America celebrates Veterans Day, we are reminded of the unique military concerns for both currently serving members and veteran personnel. Here is how to protect your interests and those of your loved ones:
UPDATE YOUR WILL
Your Last Will and Testament (“Will”) is about so much more than money. Even if you live modestly and do not own real estate, you need a Will so that your wishes for your family are carried out. This important legal document spells out issues like who will take care of your children and how they will be educated. It includes your appointment of a Personal Representative, someone you know and trust, to oversee your affairs after death. Military families can also use the Will to designate care of special assets like medals and citations, so you can ensure they will be passed to someone who cares about them and will keep them safe.
With a validly executed up-to-date Will created in the state in which you reside, you will be ready for sudden deployment. You can confidently leave your home with one less worry about how your family will carry on without you.
Be aware, however, that a Will alone may not be your best protection. If you have only a Will, your family will still need to undergo a court-supervised probate process to receive your assets (assets such as funds in your bank account, car, home, life insurance proceeds, etc.) For example, if you do own your home, then a Revocable Trust (aka Living Trust) trust is a much better plan.
SET UP A REVOCABLE TRUST
Anybody who owns real estate absolutely needs a Revocable Trust. Contact us for a consultation on why this is the case, but here is the big picture:
- Trusts are used to bypass probate. Upon your death, all assets in the Trust pass directly to the beneficiaries you designate in your Trust, and not through any court process.
- Trusts can provide your beneficiaries with asset protection against your unpaid bills and creditors.
- This type of Trust is fully revocable: the creator of the Trust can change any terms or revoke the entire Trust.
- Trusts are private documents that, unlike Wills, do not become a part of the public record. This ensures that nobody (including creditors or ex-spouses) can snoop into the details of your finances without your permission.
Simply put, a Trust has your back just when you need it.
ASSIGN A POWER OF ATTORNEY AND A HEALTH CARE SURROGATE
If you are a military family, “the unthinkable” is something you think about. If you are wounded or develop a severe illness that puts you out of commission, who will make the critical life decisions you usually handle? Do you want your spouse or partner to be burdened with that?
This is where a Power of Attorney comes into play as one of the most important documents you will ever sign. It functions while you are alive and allows you to select a person (the “agent”) to step up for you in case of your sudden mental or physical incapacity. The agent will be able to make legal and financial decisions and conduct transactions on your behalf until you get better.
Similar protection is provided by a Health Care Surrogate document, also known as a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Directive. This allows you to plan for difficult medical decisions. It enables you to name someone (the “agent”) who will make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. This prevents disagreements within the family as to who should make these critical decisions. Such choices include consenting to certain medical procedures, seeking a second opinion, obtaining medical records, and transferring you to a different medical facility.
Without the Health Care Surrogate document, if you are seriously wounded or ill and cannot make your own medical decisions, the healthcare facility will follow Florida law to determine who is responsible for your healthcare decisions.
If you already have a Power of Attorney but created this document prior to October 2011, it is time to update it as the laws in Florida have changed. And be aware that the Power of Attorney will expire when you pass away, so you must make additional arrangements for your family through your Will or Trust.
APPOINT LEGAL GUARDIANS FOR YOUR CHILDREN
All parents need to designate the persons who will raise their minor (under 18 years old) or special-needs children if the parents pass away. But when both mother and father serve in the military, the risk of losing both parents are much higher than for other families. A vital part of your Will is the designation of Guardians for your children. This ensures that your children will live with and be raised by someone of your choosing and not someone chosen by a Judge.
IT IS NOT ABOUT HAVING LIFE INSURANCE, IT IS ABOUT HAVING ENOUGH LIFE INSURANCE
Given the risk of death that is part of your job description, you probably have life insurance. But do you have enough life insurance? Do you have the right kind for your unique situation?
Your life is priceless, but you can come as close as possible to its value by getting an insurance plan that reflects your family’s needs. Start by contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has various coverage plans for veterans and currently serving personnel.
For many who serve in the military, family separation does not just raise emotional concerns but is also about a lack of control. Can your spouse or partner pay the bills without you? Will they try to make significant decisions without you because they do not want to worry you? Should they even be burdened with those decisions? Setting up Wills, Trusts, and other arrangements will not take all the worries away, but it can give you some sense of control at a time when so much is out of your hands.
An estate planning attorney is your partner in protecting your family while you are busy protecting our country. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started with a free phone consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.