Estate Planning Assistance for Veterans and Active Military

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Whether you’re a veteran or active military, thank you for your service. Here is some help to put a plan in place to safeguard your family and your legacy. This should include how their family members will manage if the head of their household unexpectedly dies. For military service members, the thought of how they will take care of their families if something were to happen to them can be even more pressing.

Use this guide for basic Estate Planning as it relates to veterans and active military service members. Included is any unique benefits that they and their families may qualify for.

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s for nearly everyone who owns property, including a house, car or savings account. 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.

Here are key components of Estate Planning:

Wills for Military Service MembersAdaptability is one of the shared traits among all military families. Between long training periods, new orders, relocating across the country, or to a new country entirely, military families take on many challenges and give them their all. That also means preparing for the future and everything it may have in store.

 A Will is a vital legal document that allows you to specify who will handle your affairs after death, determine how to distribute your assets, and designate who will take care of your children. Having a Will allows you to do your job, knowing that those to whom you hold dear will be protected if anything should happen to you, on or off the job

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. If you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage your affairs, your Attorney can do it for you. This includes paying your bills, making repairs to your home, and selling your assets such as home or car.

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.

Name Legal Guardian for Children If you and your spouse are both military service members, or if you want to have a contingency plan just in case, a will allows you to name a legal guardian for your minor or special needs children. Many parents find it comforting to have a plan for their children should the unthinkable happen.

Trusts for Military Service MembersA Trust is similar to a Will in that it also allows you to specify who will receive your assets if you die. Another benefit of a Trust is dictating how you would like your assets handled during any period in which you may be incapacitated or otherwise unable to speak for yourself.

Establishing and funding a Trust keeps your assets safe until it’s time to pass them down to someone else. A Living Trust requires that you transfer ownership of the included assets from yourself to your Trust. For this reason, you may not want to put items or accounts that you may need access to, like your checking account or primary place of residence, into a Trust.

Avoid Probate CourtEstablishing a Trust allows you to pass assets and property to your Beneficiaries without going through Probate Court. This is because you have already transferred ownership of these assets to the Trust. Since the Trust owns the assets, the terms of the Trust dictate what happens to them.

Probate Court can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Because military families dedicate themselves so completely to military life and all it asks of them, it may not be possible for a surviving spouse to support their family, even temporarily, without their partner’s income.

Estate Tax SavingsWhile putting assets into a Trust is typically subject to gift tax requirements during your lifetime, establishing a Trust may help minimize Estate Taxes after death. Due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Federal Estate Taxes are only triggered when an individual’s assets total $11.4 million or more, or a combined total of $22.8 million, for couples.

Long-term care and insurance: The Department of Veterans Affairs offers veterans and active-duty service members low-cost life insurance for themselves and their loved ones. Military service requires deep sacrifice from the service members themselves and their entire family. Because each veteran and active-duty service member is unique, there are a variety of plans to choose from, depending on your circumstances and level of coverage needed.

Survivor benefits: Some veterans and their families receive Veterans Pension Benefits that provide them with supplemental income. But those benefits stop if a veteran passes away. No longer having that payment to rely on every month could leave their family struggling to make ends meet.

A Survivors Pension, or Death Pension, is a tax-free benefit paid to a veteran’s surviving spouse or unmarried children after their death. For a spouse or children of a deceased veteran to be eligible for a Survivors Pension, the veteran must have died while on active duty, died due to a service-related injury or disease, or have been receiving VA compensation for a service-related disability or be totally disabled. A veteran’s length of active duty is also a factor in eligibility. 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: This 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.

Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan.