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Estate Planning for Deployed Military Members

Servicemen and women facing deployment obviously have a lot to think about, including estate planning. With proper legal and financial planning, members of the military who are headed overseas can gain valuable peace of mind for themselves and their family members at home.

All service members should act before they leave to ensure that while they are deployed their financial matters will be taken care of. Although some of this can be done through automatic payments, it is often a good idea to select a trustworthy person to act under a power of attorney as well. The person designated in a power of attorney document is called an “attorney-in-fact.” By assigning an attorney-in-fact, deployed members of the military will have an agent who can handle important and distracting monetary matters in their absence.

Trustworthiness is key for an attorney-in-fact. JAG attorneys have seen cases in which a Soldier has appointed a girlfriend or a brother or friend, or a brand new spouse as attorney-in-fact, and the results were catastrophic. For young service members, it is best to appoint a parent, or a spouse, if the marriage is a long-standing one (5 years or more), or a sibling only if they are mature and in a stable family situation. Never appoint anyone in a power-of-attorney who you suspect of having a drug or alcohol problem or a fondness for gambling.

Additionally, all members of the military, but especially those with children, should ensure they have a life insurance policy in place. It is important to note that many life insurance policies will not pay for those individuals killed due to an act of war or while engaged in the line of duty. Because of this, any service member facing deployment should carefully examine his or her life insurance policies. They should also be sure to maximize the SGLI (Servicemembers Group Life Insurance) which is currently $400,000 coverage for all service members as long as the service member has not reduced or declined the coverage. A disability policy should also be considered in case of a catastrophic injury.

Many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have life insurance for their children, to provide a home, education, and health care if something happens to them. Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with naming beneficiaries for this purpose. Trustees (NOT parents or the children) must be named to properly protect the money and the children. I will cover this issue in a future post. Just remember, you should discuss your children’s insurance money with a competent estate planning attorney.

A soon-to-be deployed service member should carefully evaluate his or her estate plan. He or she will have at least one, and possibly more chances to speak with a JAG attorney at SRP sites before he leaves the United States on deployment. These dedicated uniformed attorneys at SRP sites have limited time to meet with each person and prepare wills and powers of attorney. The military attorney also may not have the extensive experience needed for every situation. The JAG attorneys preparing documents at SRPs are also not liable under law for mistakes they might make.

It is always a good idea to draft a will and a health care power of attorney prior to deployment. A member of the armed forces should also consider creating a living trust in order to speed the transfer of any assets to loved ones if tragically killed in the line of duty. In addition, estate planning documents should be coordinated with a service member’s life insurance policy and beneficiary designations. By engaging in thorough estate planning prior to overseas deployment, a military member may protect his or her family’s financial well-being even while away.

Perhaps the most important thing a military parent or spouse can do to shield family members from financial ruin is to consult with an estate planning attorney. For a soon-to-be-deployed member of the military, it is essential to create or update estate planning documents prior to leaving the country. By taking care of this before you are deployed, you remain in control of your financial and other matters. Additionally, it is always a good idea to have an experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney review your estate plan on a regular basis.

Attorneys Dan Krause and Nelson Donovan, of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC, both have years of experience as JAG attorneys, serving Army Soldiers in their pre-deployment planning. Our attorneys also have many years of experience as civilian attorneys, focusing on estate planning including trusts, wills, powers of attorney health care documents, probate matters, and a variety of other estate planning tools. We invite you to request a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss achieving your estate planning goals.

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