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Estate Planning Basics For Active Duty Servicemembers: Part 1


Estate planning is an integral part of life for all families, but it is even more crucial for active duty and reserve members of the U.S. military. Having to deploy, relocate or spend extended time away from your family while on leave is physically, financially and emotionally taxing. Being a military family means comfortability with uncertainty. However, not everything needs to be left up to chance. This is especially true regarding estate planning basics like drafting a will or securing your family’s financial future.

Financial and Health Power of Attorney 

If you know you must leave for active duty or deployment, it makes sense to discuss your finances with your spouse or partner. If you have sole checking, savings or investment accounts, you may want to either convert these accounts to joint accounts, giving your spouse control to manage it, or sign a financial power of attorney, designating your spouse as custodian over your financial accounts or an impartial third party such as a financial advisor or accountant. This is done so in the event of a medical emergency or death, your spouse does not need to fight through probate court trying to close your financial accounts or access money they may badly need to support your family in your absence.

In addition, designating your spouse or loved one as a health surrogate and signing a health power of attorney is also smart to do prior to deployment. Even if you are not leaving the country, discussing what your wishes would be should become physically or cognitively incapacitated can ease the burden on your family and also give you peace of mind and autonomy in a worst case scenario. Everyone should have a will and an advanced directive, but nominating a health surrogate as well guarantees that someone on your behalf can communicate your wishes to your healthcare providers.

What About Survivor Benefit Plans? 

You may also want to research survivor benefit plans (“SBP”). This is a unique service offered to active duty and reserve military in the armed forces. SBP is set up similar to a life insurance plan. As you continue to serve as a reservist, in the national guard or in active duty, your employer contributes to your military retirement plan, which you can draw upon when you resign. However, in the event of a service member’s untimely death, his or her family members can draw on the retirement plan, which is converted to a survivor benefit plan. The plan will continue to pay monthly payments to survivors after the service member’s death. The plan is protected from inflation and a cost of living adjustment is made every several years. Eligible survivors include current and former spouses and children. If the servicemember is both unmarried and childless, they can nominate a person with insurable interest. Even former spouses (if the servicemember divorced) are eligible for SBP. However, this must be handled prior to a divorce judgment going into effect. And, the service member must enroll in SBP before they retire for the plan to go into effect.

Contact Our Military Estate Planning Attorneys at Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group 

Serving your country is a valiant honor, but it is also a sacrifice. Military servicemembers give up stability to serve their country and are prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice. But for the loved ones of a service member, it can be difficult to remain at home without a safety net in place. Would your loved one’s be covered should you not make it home? Does your spouse have access to joint finances, and if you were in grave health, can he or she serve as a health proxy on your behalf? These are all items to consider. Our estate planning attorneys at Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group are able to assist you throughout each step of your case. It is never too early to start thinking about securing your future and protecting your family. Call our lawyers today to schedule a consultation.



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