No matter the time of year, it is always a good opportunity for members of the military and their loved ones to consider setting up — or revising an existing —estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas. Beyond this, members of the military have access to special benefits and resources. This can become complicated and, for this reason, it is important to seek special help if you are a military family.
Whether you are just starting your service in the military or have been serving for some time, consider the following common factors that may be important in your estate planning.
Factors to Consider
Estate plans should be customized to each person's particular circumstances. In your estate planning, you should consider whether:
- You own real property and, if so, if it is located in different states;
- You are married;
- You have minor children, or children with special needs;
- You have money set aside in 401(k), IRAs, or thrift savings plans;
- You plan to give to charity; and
- You are moving multiple times across states or to different countries.
Estate Planning Necessities
There are many benefits offered to military families that can help with estate planning. These include:
Life insurance - Life insurance is an important part of an estate plan intended for those who are financially dependent upon you, especially if you are facing deployment. Active-duty members have access to low-cost life insurance for themselves and their loved ones from Service Members' Life Insurance Group. More information can be found on the Department of Veterans Affairs website. When examining your life insurance, work with us to make sure that the beneficiary designation works the way you expect.
Will - A will is a crucial document outlining to whom and how you want your property distributed at your death. It also allows you to name who will administer your estate and specify who will care for a minor or special needs children.
Trust - A trust is a separate legal entity that can hold property and assets for the benefit of one or more people or entities. Similar to a will, a trust allows you to dictate who will receive your property at your death and how it is to be administered. The added benefit of a trust is that it also provides instructions on how to handle the assets during any period of your incapacity. For most families, a trust-centered estate plan is a better fit, but a will can work for some families.
Other benefits for survivors - Survivor benefit plans (SBP) are pension-type plans in the form of an annuity that will pay your surviving spouse and children a monthly benefit at your death. Likewise, dependency and indemnity compensation (D&IC) provides a monthly benefit to eligible survivors of servicemembers or veterans (1) who die while on active duty, (2) whose death is due to a service-related disease or injury, or (3) who are receiving or entitled to receive VA compensation for a service-related disability and are totally disabled. When you are examining any financial service or insurance product, it's a good idea to work with an estate planning attorney to make sure any beneficiary designations work the way you expect and provide the maximum benefit to your family.
You Need Special Help
Members of the military often experience frequent moves, have access to several forms of government benefits after service, and can be subject to some unusual tax rules. For these reasons, estate planning for military families is more complicated than most.
You can expect an estate planning professional to assist you in setting up the following:
- Powers of attorney for financial matters, as well as health care decisions (they are very helpful when a spouse is deployed);
- Funeral and burial arrangements;
- Wills and living wills;
- Organ donation;
- Family care plans;
- Life insurance;
- Estate taxes;
- Survivor benefits; and
- Estate administration and/or probate.
An estate plan has multiple objectives: to provide for your family's financial security, ensure your property is preserved and passed on to your beneficiaries, and determine who will manage your assets upon your death, among others. We are here to guide you through the best options available to you and your family. As a Marine Corps veteran, I have a passion for assisting veterans. Give us a call today.