Friday, May 23, 2008

Estate Planning for Military Personnel

Pre-deployment preparations for Pennsylvania Army National Guard units, which were recently given notice for overseas posting, will involve Reservists' execution of personal & estate planning documents.

In this posting on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, I provide some links to reliable online military resources about estate planning.

This Memorial Day occurs in the midst of announcements regarding continued deployments that will affect many service personnel and their families in Pennsylvania & other states.

February 29, 2008, The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA) reported in an article entitled "Guard unit alerted for possible deployment", by Joseph Cress, as follows:

About 1,200 more Pennsylvania National Guard troops are being told they may go to Iraq within a year.

Members of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, received an alert order a couple months ago, said Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, a Guard spokesman.

The new call-ups are in addition to 4,000 Pennsylvania soldiers with the 56th Stryker Brigade who were told in October they could be sent to Iraq within a year.

Cleaver said this is only an alert order to step up preparation for possible mobilization. * * *

“Alert orders may never mature to mobilization orders,” Cleaver explained. He added the 28th brigade would likely leave in early 2009, a few months after the Stryker Brigade.

If both forces go, it would be the largest deployment of Pennsylvania National Guard troops into combat since World War II and the first time the entire 28th Brigade would deploy overseas as a whole unit, Cleaver said. Prior to this, elements of the 28th Brigade have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. * * *

Issuing the alert order now gives 28th Brigade members ample time to work with family and employers to settle matters and prepare for possible deployment, Cleaver said. Guard counselors have already met with families to brief them on what to expect and what services are available. * * *
On May 20, 2008, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported further anticipated deployments in an article entitled "W. Pa. Guard brigade headed for Iraq -- Moves signal stable troop levels through next year", by Nancy A. Youssef, as follows:
The Defense Department yesterday announced that it will send seven combat brigades to Iraq by the end of the year, suggesting that the Pentagon is planning to maintain its troop levels in Iraq through next year.

The military also alerted four National Guard Army brigades, or roughly 14,000 troops, including one from Western Pennsylvania, to prepare for deployments to Iraq beginning next spring. * * *

The Washington, Pa.-based 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 28th Infantry Division, which includes some 2,500 soldiers from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, previously served in Iraq in a deployment that began in 2005.

The alert was issued this far in advance of their spring 2009 deployment to give the Guard members and their families time to plan. * * *

An essential part of pre-deployment preparation is estate planning.

NCO Matters, an Association of the United States Army, recommends an online "Estate Planning Tool Kit" (10/11/2002) that briefs service personnel about estate planning:
Estate planning produces a plan that may include some or all of these: a will, military testamentary instrument, a trust, life insurance, an advance medical directive, a health care power of attorney, designation of anatomical gifts, and other dispositive documents.

The Army Judge Advocate General's Corps' new Estate Planning Tool Kit for Military & Family Members covers basic tools and techniques many military members use to plan their estates.

That very comprehensive Toolkit reiterates, in its introduction, the basics of personal & estate planning:

Military legal assistance attorneys prepare thousands of wills every year for soldiers and their spouses. This document is usually the center piece of a member's estate plan.

Estate planning is an ongoing, continuous process of coordinating your legal and financial well being to acquire, accumulate, preserve, and dispose of your assets and wealth during your life and at your death.

A well-designed plan provides not only for transfer of your property on death, but also considers authorized benefits, the adequacy and flexibility of life insurance, the need for retirement income, and the contingencies of mental or physical disability.

Effective estate planning may amount to little more than preparing a simple will and reviewing your life insurance beneficiary designations, preparing a power of attorney, an advance medical directive, designating organ donation, or it may be a highly complex plan that includes trusts and other property transfer instruments. * * *

The Military Officers Association of America recognizes that very continuum in estate planning -- from simplicity to complexity -- and notes the effect upon a proper selection of professional advisors qualified to work on appropriate documents:
For basic needs, your installation JAG or legal services office (usually open to retirees in addition to Active Duty) is usually sufficient.

As you accumulate more assets and your situation becomes more complicated, you may need some additional estate planning tools.

Also, special circumstances such as divorce, remarriage, marriage to a non-US Spouse and children with special needs require legal documents specifically tailored to meet your new circumstances.

Additional estate planning tools include: a durable power of attorney; a revocable living trust; an irrevocable life insurance trust; a minor's trust; a special needs trust; and various types of charitable trusts.

These advanced estate planning documents may be outside the scope of the installation legal services office, so you may need to seek the help of a qualified private practice attorney. * * *
Operation Home Front, operated by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, provides generic explanations about various documents involved in military estate planning in its online article "Estate Planning Preparedness Information".

See also:
"Estate planning: What you need to know", by Mathew B. Tully, posted by The Army Times.

For a checklist of matters to be considered generally, see: "Estate Planning Checklist -- 25 Things You Can Do To Get Your Estate in Order" (PDF, 3 pages), which addresses: Estate Planning; Insurance Planning; Organizing Financial Records; & Personal Planning.

A link on the website of Ft. Bragg suggests a "Will Preparation Worksheet", in the form of a questionnaire seeking specific data.
See also: Estate Planning Questionnaire & Worksheet (PDF, 9 pages), posted by the Wyoming Military Department, Army National Guard, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

In his article
posted by the American Bar Association entitled "Estate Planning for the Military" (PDF, 3 pages), Capt. Kevin P. Flood, JAGC, U.S.N.R., Ret., provides a primer for attorneys as to how estate planning for military personnel can differ from the same process for civilians.
Estate planning for members of the military often differs from the model used in a civilian practice. For one thing, the military client requesting a will or other estate-planning document may be much younger than the typical civilian client.

Due to the dangers associated with service, preventive law programs in the military encourage service members to have their affairs in order and to execute wills — more than 550,000 wills were prepared for active duty and reserve service members during the Desert Storm mobilizations.

Very often clients do not have much more that their $250,000 Service member’s Group Life Insurance Policy (SGLI) and other military benefits, and these should be reviewed and coordinated with the will or estate plan. * * *
He recognized that estate planning, which leads into an estate administration process, still relies heavily upon state law:
This article highlights only the areas of main concern in assisting a military member in estate planning, with the understanding that additional issues must be dealt with, such as taxation, probate costs, fiduciary selection, and the like.
Finally, for those more visually inclined, check out the PowerPoint presentation, also prepared by Capt. Kevin P. Flood, JAGC, U.S.N.R., Ret., entitled "Estate Planning for Military Personnel", again posted by the ABA.

Update: 05/27/08:

Referenced on the Stryker Brigade News in a
posting (05/26/08), was an article, entitled "Local Guard prepares for Iraq" (05/26/08), by Steve Marrioni, published in the Evening Sun (Hanover, PA), regarding the very personal aspects of the mobilization of the 56th Stryker Bridgade:
Especially in times of war, most people know Memorial Day is a day set aside for more than firing up the grill with family, friends and neighbors.

This weekend, many soldiers with the local National Guard unit will be doing just that. Hot dogs, hamburgers, parades, ceremonies.

But they, and their families, will have something else in the back of their minds. Those soldiers will soon be serving in Iraq.

The 100 or so members of Battery A of the First Battalion of the 108th Field Artillery, based in Hanover, will be among the 4,000 Pennsylvania Guard members deploying to Iraq with the 56th Stryker Brigade. * * *

While the soldiers have a lot of questions, so do the families. And sometimes it takes other family members to answer those, or address their worries.

"When are they leaving, when are they coming home, what will they be doing," Beckner said some of the questions have been. "We're trying to be there for each other."

They're there to answer questions, too, as the soldiers prepare to go. Who gets power of attorney for the deployed soldier? What about health care? Child care? These are all things that need to be addressed along the way.

The Army has a set system in place, and groups like this help guide families through what can seem like a confusing jungle of paperwork and acronyms.

But, perhaps most importantly, they'll know what their friends are going through. They all have a loved one who will be serving in Iraq.

"We're all on a roller coaster ride for the next year," Beckner said. "And it's an emotional one." [Link added.]
Update: 05/29/08:

The American College of Trust & Estate Counsel announced to its members, in a weekly update email message, the addition of a link to this Blog posting, placed in both its "Public" and "Member" areas, under the new heading "Estate Planning -- Military", accompanied by a link to that very useful "
Estate Planning Tool Kit" provided by the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Update: 06/09/08:

On June 2, 2008, the Daily Local (Chester Co., PA) published a weekly column by Attorney Janet Colliton, of West Chester, PA, entitled "How active-duty military personnel can gain access to legal assistance", which referenced the posting above.
This past May 23, in honor of the upcoming Memorial Day commemoration, a friend and colleague, Neil Hendershot, included in his blog valuable references to estate planning information for military personnel.

Neil, a Harrisburg attorney with the law firm of Goldberg Katzman PC, hosts the Pennsylvania Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog, a prolific site on which can be found everything from senior crime prevention programs to recent public will contests like the Barnes Foundation dispute. In glancing through it, the reader might learn everything from calculating virtual age to how to plan estates involving firearms. It can be found at

For the article on estate planning for military personnel, scroll down to May 23, 2008. Neil noted that his article coincided with the call-up of Pennsylvania National Guard reservists from Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville within a year.

He provided links to several military Web sites to assist servicemen and women in preparing for active duty. * * *