Although Memorial Day just passed, it is important to honor those who have served our country all throughout the year.
Remembering those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and safety can be a difficult thing, especially for families whose loved ones did not return from battle. But for members of the military and their loved ones, this is a time to consider setting up or revising an existing estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas. Additionally, members of the military have access to special benefits and resources, that while beneficial, can also become very complicated. For this reason, it is important that you work with an experienced estate planning attorney if you are a military family.
Whether you are just starting in the military or you are a seasoned veteran, below are some common factors to consider for your estate planning needs.
Factors to Consider
Everyone’s estate plan should be customized to the person’s particular circumstances. Some factors that should be considered include whether:
- You own real property and, if so, if the real estate is located in different states;
- You are married;
- You have minor children, or children with special needs;
- You have money set aside in 401(k), IRAs, or thrift savings plans;
- You plan to give to charity; and
- You are moving multiple times across states or to different countries.
Estate Planning Necessities
Military families have earned many special benefits that can help with estate planning. These include:
Life insurance - an important part of an estate plan and intended for those who are financially dependent upon you, life insurance is especially important if a member of the military is heading out to a combat zone. Active-duty members have access to low-cost life insurance for themselves and loved ones from Service Members’ Life Insurance Group. More information can be found on the Department of Veterans Affairs website. When examining your life insurance, work with your attorney to make sure the beneficiary designation works the way you expect it to.
Wills and Trusts - a last will and testament to whom and how you want your property distributed, names who will administer your estate and specifies who will care for a minor or special needs child. A trust, on the other hand, is a separate legal entity that can hold property and assets for the benefit of one or more people or entities. For most families, a trust-centered estate plan is a better fit, but a will can work for some families.
Other benefits for survivors - survivor benefit plans (SBP) are pension-type plans in the form of an annuity that will pay your surviving spouse and children a monthly benefit. Likewise, dependency and indemnity compensation (D&IC) provides a monthly benefit to eligible survivors of servicemembers or veterans (1) who die while on active duty, (2) whose death is due to a service-related disease or injury or (3) who are receiving or entitled to receive VA compensation for service-related disability and are totally disabled. When you are examining any financial services or insurance product, it’s a good idea to work with your attorney to make sure any beneficiary designations work the way you expect and provide the maximum benefit to your family.
You Need Special Help
Members of the military often experience frequent moves, have access to lots of government benefits after service, and can be subject to some unusual tax rules. For these reasons, estate planning for military families is more complicated than most.
An experienced estate planning attorney will help you with setting up the following:
- Powers of attorney for limited and general financial matters, as well as health care decisions (there are very helpful when a spouse is deployed);
- Funeral and burial arrangements;
- Wills and living wills;
- Organ donation;
- Family care plans;
- Life insurance;
- Estate taxes;
- Survivor benefits; and
- Estate administration and/or probate.
An estate plan has multiple objectives: to provide for your family’s financial security, ensure your property is preserved and passed on to your beneficiaries, and determine who will manage your assets upon your death, among others. As a member of the military, you have worked hard and earned these benefits and assets. Engaging an estate attorney ensures that all of these are available to you and your family in the way you intended.