Creating a will isn’t comfortable, but it’s always necessary|
Commentary by Air Force Capt. Quiana McCarthy
673d ABW Judge Advocate
6/6/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Planning for your death is not a comfortable process. To be sure, we don't generally enjoy discussing such a somber topic.
It is wise to be prepared, however, and legal readiness includes estate planning and ensuring your affairs are properly arranged. Every military member bears this burden in order to be ready to deploy. But how does one satisfy this duty?
Estate planning can be confusing and present difficult questions. Where does one even begin? An important first step is preparing a will (with the assistance of an attorney).
Active duty service members can avail themselves of free legal assistance from the base legal office. If you have a fairly simple estate, the base attorneys can create your will and can also create simple trusts for your minor children.
With respect to the latter, an important initial step is to have a conversation with your family to discuss guardians and trusts for minor children, personal representatives, funeral arrangements, and other issues pertinent to your final wishes.
Many clients come to the legal office with questions regarding what is included in a will and what considerations should be made when drafting such a document.
The advice provided here is merely a basic overview and is not meant to replace seeking legal counsel.
This advice should simply introduce you to the subject and assist in focusing on your individual estate.
With a better understanding of estate planning, you can ensure the maximum benefit from your legal assistance appointment.
What is an "estate?"
Your estate includes everything you own, no matter whether you own it entirely or have only a partial interest in it. For example, your estate can include cars, military memorabilia, insurance policies, timeshares, etc.
What is estate planning? Estate planning involves deciding how to dispose of your real and personal property upon your death.
To whom, for instance, do you want to give your autographed baseball or your wedding ring? Estate planning also involves making provisions for your minor children, including appointing a guardian and a trustee.
These individuals care for your children and manage their property until they reach adulthood. Of course, it is wise to check with every proposed guardian and trustee ahead of time to ensure they will accept the job.
Do I need a will?
You should execute a will if you have minor children, own real estate, have an estate exceeding $500,000, or have pieces of personal property you want to go to specific individuals. This list is not exhaustive, and it often helps to speak with an attorney when deciding whether to make a will.
Does a will cover all my property?
No. Your life insurance and certain retirement accounts, for example, are called "non-probate assets," which means they do not pass as part of your will (although they may count toward the total value of your estate for tax purposes). When you set up a life insurance policy or retirement account, you probably designated beneficiaries for it. Life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts pass according to those designations.
In your will, you will designate beneficiaries (the individuals or organizations who will inherit your assets according to your will), personal representatives/executors, guardians and trustees.
What is a personal representative or executor?
A personal representative or executor is the individual who will manage and settle your estate pursuant to your will. You can also appoint a secondary personal representative or executor, to take over in the event the primary fails to act for any reason.
What should I consider when appointing a guardian? A guardian is the individual who will handle the parenting of your children.
Unless you appoint a separate trustee, the guardian will also manage your children's property until they reach adulthood. Therefore, you should consider the maturity level and financial stability of every potential guardian. You should also consider their personal and religious values, as well as their physical health.
When should I change my will?
You should change your will if:
you get married or divorced;
the individual you name as guardian, trustee, or personal representative dies;
there is a birth or death that affects your estate plan;
you want to change your beneficiaries;
you change your state of legal residence;
your property value increases or decreases significantly;
estate tax law changes
How long is a will valid?
Your will is valid until you revoke it or execute a new one.
Legal readiness includes planning your estate and having a valid will in place.
Active duty service members may be called to deploy at any time and they must ensure that their final affairs are in order.
To discuss estate-planning concerns, make an appointment with the base legal office by calling 552-3046 or 384-0371.