Learn the ins and outs about wills, associated legal documents

Contributed by 86th Airlift Wing
judge advocate

Whether in life or in death, there may come a time when you are not able to make or communicate your own decisions about your property, your health care or even who will look after your children. Fortunately, there are legal documents that allow you to make these choices now. Doing so minimizes the risk of placing the decision-making burden on your loved ones in a time of crisis, or worse, forcing them to get a court order. Despite the importance of these documents, many individuals put off getting them. A recent Air Force survey of active-duty military and their spouses on Ramstein shows that almost 40 percent of those surveyed do not have an up-to-date will. The following summaries explain the different documents available at your local legal office and how
they play an important role in your own personal readiness planning.

Having a will is a good idea for everyone.
A will is your statement of intent regarding who receives your property when you die, who collects and hands over that property, and who will act as guardian of your minor children. A will can also outline other wishes you want carried out upon your death. Generally, if you die without a will, it will be up to a judge to decide all of these things. This can be time-consuming, costly and frustrating. While you are
drafting or reviewing your will, be sure to review your life insurance and other beneficiary designations, as they are not typically controlled by your will.

What kind of medical treatment would you want if you were too hurt or sick to express your wishes? A living will allows you to state your desires regarding medical treatment while you are still healthy. Normally, it addresses the situation where you are incapacitated and have a terminal illness. It tells your medical provider what treatments and life-sustaining measures you want and don’t want, such as pain management, mechanical respiration and tube feeding. Without a living will, your provider may be required to artificially prolong your life or perform invasive medical procedures, even if it is against your wishes or the wishes of your family. The combination of a living will with a durable medical power of attorney (explained below), is called an advance health care directive, or proxy. Drafting this now is a good way to spare your family the stress of guessing your wishes later on.

There are two types of durable powers of attorney provided by the Ramstein Law Center: medical and general. Both function the same way, but they cover different areas of your life. The key similarity is that these POAs remain in effect even after you are incapacitated.

A durable medical POA allows you to name an agent to handle your medical affairs.
A durable general POA allows you to name an agent to handle most other affairs, such as paying taxes, selling property and dealing with retirement benefit accounts. With both types of POAs, it is important that you discuss your desires with your named agent to ensure they understand how you want your affairs handled in the event of your incapacitation. Like a living will, these POAs are good for life unless revoked, although they should be periodically updated even if no changes are made. Once you are incapacitated, it is too late to execute a POA or other legal documents. In that event, your loved one may have to request a court order to get authority to act on your behalf. For many people, the durable general POA is one of the most important estate planning instruments available.

Typically, when you get a durable medical POA, you also name someone to control the disposition of your remains should you die. Although all military members are required to fill out a DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data, this document is not recognized by all states as legally binding. In the event that your state does not recognize DD Form 93, the disposition of your remains may ultimately be inconsistent with your desires or the desires of your loved ones. A will and an appointment of agent to control disposition of remains will fix this issue and ensure that your final wishes in regards to your remains are accomplished.
A special POA is usually only good for a maximum of one year and takes effect immediately when you sign it. Special POAs are used to give another person authority to do something that you would otherwise be able to do. An entity is not required to accept a special POA regardless of your desires. Therefore, it is recommended that you check with that entity (for example, your bank or your insurance company) prior to executing a special POA to ensure you are getting a document they will honor. Some entities will have a special format they want you to use.

These documents are very important and can assist your family members in the event you are unable to act on your own or in the event of your death. By taking care of these matters as soon as possible, you will ensure that should you pass away or become incapacitated, your affairs will be in order and your loved ones will have the documentation necessary to accomplish whatever may be required of them with as much ease as possible. To start the process, go online and visit www.aflegalassistance.law.af.mil.

There, you will be able to fill out a worksheet to answer all the necessary questions to create each of the documents described above. Once you have filled out the
worksheet, write down your ticket number and contact the Ramstein Law Center at 480-5911 (06371475911) to schedule an appointment to meet with an attorney to create your will and other documents. This appointment typically lasts less than an hour.