It’s easy to get swept up in day-to-day living and put off preparing for the unthinkable. But getting your affairs in order deserves a place on your to-do list. Injury, illness and even death can happen in an instant. Could your loved ones be reached in a timely manner? Would your spouse, parents or executor be able to handle your affairs immediately, and could they locate your important papers?
Facing tough decisions today can ease difficult situations for your loved ones, should they ever have to face them. Think of the peace of mind estate planning will bring you. As you make preparations, remember that service members — active and retired — and their dependents are eligible for legal assistance through service judge advocate general offices.
When you’re ready to take the first steps to getting your affairs in order, here’s how to start:
- If you are currently serving in the armed forces, ensure that your DD Form 93, or Record of Emergency Data, is up to date. Review your beneficiary designations and the person you authorize to direct disposition of your remains.
- Update your last will and testament.
- Update any trusts.
- Update your living will, otherwise known as your health care or medical directive.
- Acquire any necessary powers of attorney.
- Review your beneficiary designations, not only on your DD Form 93 and Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Form, but also on your bank accounts, Thrift Savings Plan, IRAs, 401(k)s, certificates of deposit, money market funds, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and private insurances. Know that if you do not designate beneficiaries for all of these assets, the state will designate them. The beneficiary names on your accounts and other investments should match those listed in your will; otherwise, these beneficiary designations may override your will.
- Consider including burial instructions in your will. You may include your preferences for location, organ or body donation, and cremation versus casketing. The person you designate to direct disposition of your remains should be familiar with your wishes.
- Next, consider the following organizational tasks: Assemble an estate information packet. Create an asset checklist, and update it every year. Organize your records so they make sense to your loved ones or executor. Keep important papers in one place, such as a fireproof box or safe. Let your spouse, parent or parents, executor or another trusted individual know where to find your important documents.
- If you are a service member or the spouse of one, be aware of the Online Survivor Benefits Report. This is a personalized, online benefits calculator available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to surviving spouses of service members who die on active duty. It allows survivors to see what their benefits should be today and how they would change based on “what if” scenarios, like remarriage, employment or unemployment, college attendance, disability or death of a family member. A few clicks can reassure loved ones that they’re receiving all of their survivor benefits.
- Read more about what happens after a service member’s death in A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits. Another helpful resource is The Days Ahead: Essential Papers for Families of Fallen Service Members. You might want to consider listing these resources in your will, or including copies with your estate paperwork.
- Organize your paperwork before you deploy. Proper legal arrangements can help improve your military readiness. Find out more.
Consider creating a digital estate plan. If you’ve been active on social media, stored treasured photos online or kept a blog, you should consider how you’d like this information handled. Here’s how:
- List your digital assets and corresponding access information. Store these lists separately, since they contain valuable information. One list will contain digital assets, such as your social media accounts; bank, credit card, insurance, retail and other accounts you access and pay online; email accounts; frequent flier and hotel memberships; photo-sharing and video-sharing accounts; and any “digital wallets” you load with money. Another list will contain your user names and passwords. Remember to keep these current.
- Find secure storage. Your safe deposit box at your bank is one option. You can also leave the lists with people you trust or pay to have them encrypted through an online service.
- Select a “digital executor.” This should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes following your death. Name this person in your will, and make sure they understand your wishes and how to fulfill them.
- Write out instructions for what should happen to your digital assets after you die. Would you like your social media accounts deactivated, for example, or remain visible in your memory? Your digital executor can use your user name and password to fulfil your wishes.
- Decide what, if anything, you’d like posted online after your death. You might want to leave your own message to friends and family. If so, specify your wishes in your will.
It’s never easy to think about being seriously injured, ill — or dying. Just know that the planning you do now can make a world of difference to those you love. Have your paperwork in order and make sure your wishes are known. Turn to Military OneSource’s Financial and Legal and Casualty Assistance and Surviving Loss pages for more advice.