Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s for nearly everyone who owns property, which can include a house, car or savings account. Good estate plans address important situations that could arise should something happen to you, including:
- What happens to your property?
- Who cares for your children?
- Who oversees your finances and health care options when you can’t?
Estate planning involves making decisions about how things like your real estate, investments, Social Security, cash, life insurance and business interests are used, maintained and distributed should you become incapacitated or after your death.
Why is estate planning important?
Estate planning offers you peace of mind by ensuring that you have your affairs in order for your loved ones in the event of your death and makes sure they are cared for according to your wishes. It can save you and your loved ones time and money.
There are pieces of an estate plan — such as a will — that are strongly recommended for service members with children. As a parent, you and your spouse or partner will want to decide who should raise your children in the event of your death. To do this, you’ll need a will that designates legal guardians for your surviving kids.
What does an estate plan include?
Several important legal documents make up your estate plan, which is tailored to meet your family’s needs. You and your spouse or partner — if you are married — will want discuss what the best approach is to ensure you family’s financial security. You may also want to include the following:
- Power of attorney: This document gives one person the authority to act on your behalf on legal, money and health matters if you become unable to handle your own affairs.
- Living will (advanced medical directive): This document allows you to describe what medical treatments you do or don’t want should you suffer a serious injury or become terminally ill. You can also designate who you prefer to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so via a durable health care power of attorney.
- Long-term care and insurance: It is important to plan ahead for the care you may need if you have a disabling or chronic illness and can no longer care for yourself.
- Last will and testament: With this legal document, you dictate your wishes for after your death. Without a will (or similar testamentary instrument, such as a trust), state law governs how your property will be distributed and who should be responsible for the care of your children.
- Testamentary/nontestamentary trust: This legal document is used to manage or protect assets, offer privacy, provide for multiple beneficiaries and children or tax planning and avoid the delays and costs of probate court.
- Servicemembers’ Group 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 there are others that your family must apply for.
- Funeral and burial arrangements: Including funeral and burial arrangements in your estate plan helps ensure that your final wishes are carried out. Your family is also eligible to receive funeral and burial benefits through veterans affairs.
Estate Planning Resources
Be sure to give each of the documents in your estate plan the time and attention it deserves. Contacting an estate planning attorney at your installation’s legal assistance office is a good first step toward putting together a will and other pieces of an estate plan. The following organizations can provide additional legal assistance:
- 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 an attorney. This is a joint effort of the legal assistance divisions of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Space 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 DOD provides military funeral honors to family members of eligible veterans of the uniformed services. Military OneSource provides information on prearrangements and where to find a military funeral honors coordinator.
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance: Get information on life insurance options, coverage amounts, costs and more on the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs website.
- VA survivor benefits: The VA website also outlines the benefits provided to survivors of service members who die while in service or after their service is complete.
If you’re not sure where to start in the estate planning process, take advantage of Military OneSource’s free financial counseling.
The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.