Note: The information in this article is not intended to take the place of legal advice from a licensed attorney. Consult the staff at your installation's legal assistance office for more information.
Estate planning is when you make decisions about how your property - real estate, investments, social security, cash, life insurance and business interests - is used, maintained and distributed after your death. If you're married, you and your spouse should both be involved in the estate planning process. Several important legal documents make up your estate plan, so be sure to give each one the time and attention it deserves.
Why is estate planning important?
Estate planning can give you peace of mind in knowing your wishes will be honored after your death. Here are some more reasons why time spent in estate planning is well worth it:
- Timely distribution of property: It could take years for your property to be awarded to your heirs if you don't plan properly.
- Saves time and money: Planning ahead can save you and your heirs time and money.
- Carries out your wishes: An estate plan ensures the people you love are cared for in the way you want.
What goes into an estate plan?
Your estate plan will be tailored to your individual situation. You may also want to consider including the following:
- Power of attorney: This legal document gives one person the authority to act on your behalf for any legal or economic issues for a specified period. If you want a durable power of attorney, it will be valid even if you become incapacitated or unable to handle your own affairs.
- Living will (advance medical directive): In this legal document, you describe which medical treatments you do or don't want in case of a serious injury or terminal illness. You can also designate who you prefer to make medical decisions for you if you're unable to make them yourself.
- Long-term care and insurance: This is a health care plan to help you if you have a disabling or chronic illness and can no longer care for yourself. You can also buy insurance to cover or supplement the costs of long-term care, and include that information in your estate plan.
- Last will and testament: This legal document is a declaration that states your wishes after your death. Without a will, a court may decide how to distribute your property or who should be responsible for the care of your children.
- Trust: This written legal agreement is between the person creating the trust and a trustee (the person or institution named to manage the trust assets). A trust may be used for managing or protecting assets, providing privacy, avoiding probate, providing for multiple beneficiaries, providing for children with special needs, or for tax planning.
- Life Insurance: Service members have life insurance through Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance. Depending on the benefit amount you want to provide to your family, you may want to supplement your SGLI with another life insurance policy.
- Survivor benefits: If you die because of an injury or illness incurred or aggravated during your service, your survivors may be entitled to benefits from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some benefits are automatic, but your family must apply for others.
- Funeral and burial arrangements: Including funeral and burial arrangements in your estate plan ensures your final wishes are carried out. Your family is also eligible to receive funeral and burial benefits through VA.
Where can you find more information?
- Armed Forces Legal Assistance Legal Services Locator: The legal services locator is an online tool for finding the nearest legal assistance office where you can consult with a legal assistance attorney. This is a joint effort of the legal assistance divisions of the Judge Advocate Generals' Corps of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
- Defense Finance and Accounting Services: DFAS administers the Survivor Benefit Plan and the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan.
- Military funeral honors: The Department of Defense provides military funeral honors to family members of eligible veterans of the uniformed services. More information is available on the military funeral honors website.
- Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance: Get information on life insurance options, coverage amounts, costs and more on the VA insurance website.
- VA survivor benefits: The VA survivors' benefits website outlines the benefits provided to survivors of service members who die while in service or after their service is complete.