If you’re a military service member, it’s important to have an estate plan. Estate plans protect your family in the event of your passing, but they also help protect your finances during deployment and empower someone to make medical decisions on your behalf when you’re incapacitated. No matter how old you are, every service member should consider the following estate planning tools.
Wills and trusts are two basic estate planning tools. Without a will or other valid estate planning tool, your assets will be distributed according to state intestacy law. When you have a will, your estate will pass through probate, but you can distribute assets and name guardians for your minor children.
Trusts allow beneficiaries to bypass probate after a loved one’s death. Assets held in trust directly pass to the designated beneficiary as provided for, rather than being distributed through a will. Trusts are also private: wills must be filed in probate court, which makes them a matter of public record.
Next, you’ll need to assign powers of attorney. A financial power of attorney is someone who is authorized to make financial decisions on your behalf when you’re unavailable. In other words, you can appoint someone to manage your bank accounts and pay bills while you’re overseas.
A medical power of attorney is someone authorized to make medical decisions for you while you’re incapacitated. It’s usually wise to create an advance healthcare directive, which act as instructions for how your medical affairs should be handled.
If you have minor children—especially if their other parent is no longer available—you should assign legal guardianship to a trusted person. This is often grandparents, aunts, uncles or other close friends and family members. Be sure to make sure they’ll agree to this arrangement before making the appropriate provisions in your will, and consider setting up trusts or other funds for their care.
Finally, make sure to assign beneficiaries or otherwise make provisions for any retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance and other military survivor benefits. This is especially important if your marital status has recently changed.
James Bart Leonardi, LLC is happy to help service members set up their own comprehensive estate plan. Whether you’re just starting out in the military or getting ready for retirement, we’ll help ensure you and your family are protected.