By Elain Andrews, JD, LTC, USAR (Ret.)
Certified Specialist Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law
Now that you have done your service, its time that you get a little service of your own. One of the things that you can do to make sure that your transition from military to civilian life goes smoothly and cost effectively is to realize that your military will does not protect you in civilian life.
In civilian life your goal will be to have an effective estate plan to protect you from all the unplanned for things that can happen to you. An estate plan is an organized set of documents that protects you in the event that you unexpectedly become incapacitated or die. This offers you and your loved ones the best chances of staying out of court and avoiding unnecessary taxes, costs, fees and headaches. It will typically consist of a Will and / or a living Trust (your legal expert will be able to tell you which you need as your primary estate planning vehicle) and a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and a Power of Attorney for Financial Decisions. With these documents already in place, you and your loved ones will be in the best position to keep you protected. Here is why: the only thing certain in life if its uncertainty.
Having a rock solid estate plan already in place is like having your rounds already chambered. You won’t miss a beat if you have to act rapidly to take care of one another. On the other hand, if you don’t address this necessity when you are completely of sound mind, then you will have to get the court involved in order to be able to take care of one another and you can end with an unwanted conservatorship. A conservatorship is a situation in which the court appoints someone else (not necessarily whom you would pick) to be able to make decision for you because you had no effective restate plan already in place. This is not only potentially very expensive but it can also be an ugly nightmare when you already have a crisis to deal with in a loved one’s incapacity.
Another thing that you need to be aware of is that you can’t get ham from a cow. In other words, if you want effective estate planning that is going to be useful to you outside of the military then you shouldn’t get it from the military. The Will that the military prepared for you was designed to make it easier for the military to transfer your thing to your heirs. Nothing more and nothing less. It was not intended to make your life easier outside of the military. This is because military law is not the same thing as state law. And what the military is seeking you have you accomplish (by having you make a Will) is totally different than what you will want to accomplish outside of the military so that you can minimize unnecessary expenses and keep your life out of the control of the court. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is designed to dispense laws relevant to the needs of the military. It has no need to give you estate planning advice that can help stateside. Therefore, don’t expect the military to give you any practical estate planning legal advice that will help you once you are civilian
Your civilian estate plan will need to comply with civilian laws applicable to the state in which you live full time after your transition. Therefore, you will want to consult with a duly qualified estate planning attorney who is licensed in your state.
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The worst part of war should not be coming home.