Today I read a story on the main page of military.com that made my heart clench and my stomach hurt - it was all about what happens when a service-member doesn't make their wishes, should the worst happen, perfectly clear.
One month ago Roger Hager was killed in action. In that month his mother has had to deal with the horrible emotional side effects - emotions I can't even begin to process or imagine - and also with the details of what must be done when our loved one comes home to us through Dover. Among those details was something that Hager probably never thought would be an issue - his personal effects. And according to the article there isn't much; an X Box and a cell phone and a few other things, as well as items of an emotional nature like letters.
Really, who among us thinks about bequeathing an XBox and a cell phone?
When Hager was KIA, he listed his mother as his life insurance beneficiary but failed to list her as the sole next-of-kin, and in such a situation with a single service-member the eldest parent is the one personal effects are delivered to. This does not mean that Hager's father is legally entitled to keep the items, just that in the absence of a primary NOK listing for his mother, the items are delivered to the father.
It's a harsh, horrible reality to have to deal with on top of everything else. And the worst part is that such situations are not as unusual as we'd like to think.
I know that before my husband deployed he had to attend what seemed like several hundred pre-deployment briefings about getting his affairs in order. There were eleventy thousand checklists, and two visits with JAG. Every contingency was explicitly spelled out, and even I (the paperwork queen) was taken by surprise by what is coming out of this incident - I simply did not know that this was how the personal effects delivery tree worked.
And yet still, despite the hundreds of hours spent trying to get service-members to make sure everything from life insurance to Power of Attorneys to Next of Kin to the dependents enrolled in DEERS are updated, many service-members still do not get all their paperwork done before going. And these situations continue to come up, and continue to rip families apart.
It's easy to see why - there are reasons of disbelief, "Oh please! That's not going to happen to me! What's the point?" There are superstitions, "If I do this, then I'm inviting the possibility of the worst happening into my life." And then there is a lack of concern, "Why should I care? I won't be around for it."
For those of us left at home, though, these things are absolutely essential. ABSOLUTELY. And as horrible as it seems, as painful as it is, sometimes the final check and balance on this process is us.
Like we need anything else to add to our worries and fears right before our loved one leaves, right? But that's how it is in our world.
The red tape and paperwork in the military world are infamous, and with good reason. It often seems like they consume every aspect of our lives. That's probably not too far off. But it all evolved from awful situations like this one affecting Hager's family.
*Make sure all addresses and names for notifications are up to date
*Make sure Insurance Policy beneficiaries are up to date
*Make sure there is a will, whether or not an estate seems "worth it"
*Make sure all last wishes are put into writing and NOTARIZED (this is free on base, and it is absolutely essential for any legal documents)
*Make sure Next of Kin is up to date
*Make sure there are temporary custody and guardianship agreements for children (notarized, of course)
No one wants to think about this, no one wants to plan it. No one wants to plan for the worst or push our loved ones to take care of such things that seem so distasteful and ugly right before they leave.
But we can't put it off.