Deployment: Making Legal Preparations

[Some content in this article courtesy of USAA.]

It's difficult to drop everything and leave for deployment, particularly if you're involved with a complicated legal case, or haven't put your legal affairs in order yet. Whether you're a full-time active duty servicemember or a Reserve/Guard member entering active duty, make sure you take care of at least the following before you leave:

1. Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA):

Make sure you learn everything there is to know about this act. Under it, you could qualify for:

  • Reduced interest rate on mortgage payments. 6% interest rate on credit card debt.
  • Protection from eviction if your rent is $2,400 or less.
  • Delay of all civil court actions, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure or divorce proceedings.

For more on SCRA, see this overview, or contact your unit or installation legal assistance office.

2. Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA):

USERRA provides reemployment protection and other benefits for veterans and employees who perform military service. For more on USERRA, see this overview.

3. Servicemen's Group Life Insurance (SGLI): For a small monthly charge, each active duty servicemember is eligible to be insured under SGLI up to a maximum of $250,000 in increments of $10,000. This coverage need not be the servicemember's only life insurance. Before deploying you should verify who you have designated as beneficiary on your SGLI and make changes as necessary. An eligible beneficiary can be any person or legal entity designated by the servicemember. To make any change the SGLI Election Form (VA Form SGLV-8286) must be completed. For more on SGLI, see the SGLI section. Servicemembers in the sea services may also qualify for cost-effective plans with the NMAA.

4. Drafting a Will

Nobody likes to prepare for the worst, but what will happen to your loved ones, property and personal possessions if you have no plan in place? Drafting a will doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, your military legal service office can assist you at no charge.

A will allows you to:

  • Detail how you want your property and personal belongings to be distributed to your heirs.
  • Name trustees who will manage your estate and care for your dependents.
  • Provide instructions for handling medical situations on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions.

How to Start

It is essential to name the right people or institutions to carry out your wishes in your estate plan. Choose carefully, especially when it comes to naming a guardian for your children.

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

To begin creating a will, write down your objectives, a detailed inventory of assets and outstanding debts, and a list of your beneficiaries. Be specific whenever you can and include:

  • Your name and place of residence
  • A list of your assets
  • Names of spouses, children and other beneficiaries
  • Specific gifts, such as your home or vehicle
  • Trust information
  • Debts
  • Name of executor
  • Name of guardian for children
  • Your signature
  • Signature of witnesses

Updating a Will

If you already have a will, review it before you leave for deployment to ensure it's still accurate. Again, speak with the military legal assistance office to make sure any changes are handled properly. In some cases, it may be more efficient to create an entirely new will.

Aligning Beneficiaries

In addition to your will, you will also have named beneficiaries on your military service record, and on financial accounts such as your retirement plan and life insurance policies. These beneficiaries supersede (or override) your will. To avoid confusion, make sure the documents don't conflict.

5. Power of Attorney

While you're away on deployment, situations may arise at home when you need someone to act on your behalf. But if financial accounts, household services, or other business affairs are under your name, your family may be powerless to help.

That's why it's important to take a critical pre-deployment step: creating powers of attorney with the help of your military legal service office.

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person you trust -- called your agent -- to make transactions that would normally require your signature, such as cashing checks, filing taxes or selling property. There are several types of documents that apply to different situations, such as financial and healthcare matters. The legal service office can assist you with choosing and completing the correct forms.

Types of Power of Attorney:

  • General power of attorney: This gives your agent almost complete legal authority over your personal and financial affairs. However, the general power of attorney expires if you die or become incapacitated. For that reason, a common practice is to establish a durable power of attorney, a clause in the document that remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. The durable power of attorney only expires if you die or revoke the document.
  • Limited power of attorney: This document is more specific than the general power of attorney, authorizing another person to perform only the tasks you list during a certain period of time, or in certain circumstances.

Check with your unit to see if there is a military lawyer who will provide assistance to you free of charge. Also check out the Military Law section for more information.

6. Healthcare Documents

  • Living will: This document designates medical procedures you want taken if you become too ill to make a decision. You can specify types of treatment you want to reject or accept. Discuss these decisions in advance with the help of your doctors, and leave a copy of your living will with them.
  • Durable health care power of attorney: This allows you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Have a lawyer who specializes in this field prepare it to comply with state law.

Before you're deployed, make sure your loved ones are aware of the powers of attorney, and that your financial institutions approve the documents.

7. Joint Accounts

When you're away during deployment, it may make sense to add the name of your spouse or a family member on all financial accounts. This can make it easier for them to handle financial issues, such as making changes to insurance or investments, during your absence. Keep in mind that the cosigner will have unrestricted access to your money, so only create a joint account with someone you trust completely to make responsible decisions.

Account Authority

Adding a second name provides access for both parties. But if your name is the only one listed on a policy or account, you are the only person with the authority to change it to a joint account. So be sure to make this change before you are deployed.

Put It in Writing

A marriage license doesn't always guarantee access to your accounts. Contact your financial institution to ensure both of you have access. Allow transactions to be authorized with just one signature.

9. Plan Ahead

Discuss financial obligations, monthly expenses and due dates to cover financial commitments while you are away.

Estate Plan

There is a common misperception that only wealthy people need an estate plan.

The truth is we all need one, regardless of our wealth. An estate plan:

  • Arranges for the care of minor children.
  • Distributes personal property and financial assets.
  • Makes your financial and caretaking wishes known if you become incapacitated.

For more on estate plans, see this article.

Family Care Plan

A Family Care Plan is required for all single service members and dual-service couples responsible for family members. The plan outlines specifically the care of your family members in your absence. This is critical for single parents of young children. It is the servicemember's responsibility to maintain a current plan with his or her unit. For details on how to put together a Family Care Plan, see the Family Care Plan section.

ID Cards

Every eligible member of the family needs to have the Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card (ID). During peacetime, the ID card affords the family members certain entitlements such as exchange privileges, limited commissary privileges, recreational facilities, and military discounts. However, if the servicemember is called to active duty for longer than 30 days, the ID card will be necessary for medical benefits, arranging a transfer of goods, or obtaining base housing. For more on getting an ID Card, see the ID Card section. Go to your local armory or base to obtain a card. Be prepared to show proper documentation to prove eligibility (marriage certificate, birth certificates, adoption papers etc.).

Service Record

Check the pages of your service record to ensure that the contact information is correct. An incorrect phone number can delay a response in the case of an emergency.

Vehicle Information: While deployed it is recommended that you make storage arrangements for your vehicle(s). Some installations have long-term storage available. Additionally, you should check your vehicle registration expiration date. If your registration will expire while you are deployed, you should renew your registration prior to deployment or make arrangements for someone with your power of attorney to take care of it for you. Also, some insurance companies offer reduced rates to service members who are deployed if their vehicle will not be in use. Contact your insurance agency to see if this is an option for you.

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Deployment Personal Finance