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Legal tools for deploying Airmen, others

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen from Vandenberg deploy frequently. Vandenberg Air Force Base has led Air Force Space Command in deploying its Airmen for three out of the last four years. To help ease the burden of deployment, it is important for every Airman to take advantage of all the services the Vandenberg community has to offer.

The 30th Space Wing Legal Office is one place every deploying Airman should visit before going down range. The legal office offers a variety of services, ranging from providing a simple power of attorney to drafting a full spectrum of testamentary documents (wills, living wills, durable power of attorney for health care matters, etc.).

Wills

Not every person needs a will. For example, single Airmen who have no children and who plan to leave all their possessions to parents likely do not need a will. Every state has a specific law designating which family members get a deceased person's possessions if that person dies without a will. In most states, if a married person dies without will, all of her possessions will go to her spouse. If the person was not married, all of her property would then go to her children (if any). If there is no spouse or children, most states will direct the property to the parents of the decedent. The state designations are fine for many people. Even if a service member decides against having a will drafted, she would be wise to update her beneficiaries of SGLI. However, even if an Airman wants all of her property to go to her spouse or children, there are a range of other benefits to getting a will. First, if she wants certain people to get certain items, she can direct who gets what in her will. People who die without a will cannot choose who gets certain items they leave behind. Second, in her will, an Airman can indicate who she wants to be the guardian of her children in the event that she and her spouse pass away before her children reach age 18. Third, she can indicate how she wants her remains to be disposed of and whether she wants a military funeral. Here are a few pointers to assist in determining if a will is right for you:

· It is important to understand that the legal office will provide a military will for any Airman who wants one. This means the will is valid in all 50 states, and it does not expire even after members separate or retire from the Air Force.
· If you are set to deploy, or are in a unit that has a rapid deployment tempo, it is a good idea to come in early to avoid the pre-deployment out-processing rush that ensues shortly before heading down range.
· Discuss guardianship issues with your spouse. If the both of you unknowingly name two different guardians in your will, and you both then pass away, you likely don't want to leave it to a court to decide what happens in this situation.
· Consider how you are going to leave money to children. You have two options. You can leave the money with the executor of the estate and entrust that person to hold on to the money and hand it over to your children when they turn 18. Or, you can set up a trust. If you set up a trust, there are very specific rules that must be followed when managing the money to benefit your children. Whoever you select to manage that money should be someone who is very good at record keeping. You should discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each route with your attorney, and it is a good idea to name a backup trustee. For anyone you name in your will, bring their address and phone number to your appointment.
· Before coming in, go to our website (https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil) and fill out a will execution form to help guide you through the process. This allows you to think through these important matters on your own time, without the pressure of completing a will worksheet in our office.
· You should think about who you wish to appoint as the executor of your will. This is the person who will follow your plan and enact what your will says to do. It is a good idea to have a backup in case something happens to your first option. If you have a specific location where you would like to be buried, or a specific person or charity you would like to leave money to, bring that contact information with you as well. The more information you bring to your appointment, the better we can assist you.

Living Wills / Advance Medical Directive

A living will (also known as an Advance Medical Directive) is a document you can make now, which will instruct doctors how to proceed with your health care if you are incapacitated and have an incurable disease from which there is no hope for recovery. Essentially, the document states whether you want the doctor to keep you alive through artificial hydration and nutrition dispersed through machines.

You should strongly consider speaking with your family members about your desires prior to having a living will created, as your decision can have far-reaching effects on your family. There is no expiration date on a living will, and it is a good idea to make sure you give your doctor a copy, especially before you undergo any major surgeries. Military members may request to have a copy of the living will placed in their medical records.

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney (POA) acts much like a living will in that it allows you to give direction regarding your health care if you ever become unconscious or incoherent for an extended period of time. In a medical POA, you appoint an agent to make health care decisions for you so long as you cannot make them yourself. This agent can be anyone you choose. You should obviously trust this individual to make health care decisions for you, and you should discuss what your health care wishes are before you have your medical POA created. This often will require some uncomfortable conversations. Ensure that the individual you've selected will make health care decisions that coincide with your wishes. This is not a document with a time limit, and could be valid long after you separate or retire from the Air Force.

Additionally, for those who are approaching death, an agent named in a medical POA can enter a "do not resuscitate order" on behalf of the person for whom they are making decisions. This order will only be issued only if death is inevitable.

Health care decisions can be contentious and emotional. A medical POA can prevent a dispute over which health care decision is best for you and who should speak for you. Again, make sure your agent knows your wishes.

General Durable Power of Attorney

Like the Medical POA, this document will appoint an agent to act on your behalf in the event that you are unconscious or incoherent. Unlike the medical POA, this document primarily gives your agent power to make financial decisions for you. So long as you are still alive, you are still responsible for your financial obligations. A general durable POA empowers your agent to carry out functions such as paying bills, mortgages and taxes if you are unable to, and will only go into effect at the time you become incapable of taking care of such functions on your own. Unless you become incapacitated, the document will lay dormant.

There is no time limit on the document, and the powers can be granted broadly. For example, an Airman may consider getting a general durable POA that empowers his agent to sell a business or real estate. Even if the Airman does not own a business or any real estate yet, he may someday. In the future, if he owns a business, the general durable POA may be used to sell his business to support his debts.

Great care should be taken when selecting an agent for a general durable POA. The broad power this tool gives an agent is extremely useful, but can also be abused. The general durable POA will give your agent unfettered access to bank accounts, stocks, and other assets while you are incapacitated. Ensure the person you choose to act as your agent in the future is someone you would trust with your money today.

Another benefit to the general durable POA is the flexibility affords you as you grow older. For example, if you find that someday you must be admitted into a group home or some other state-run medical facility, you may only be eligible to participate in certain programs if you qualify for Medicaid first. Medicaid, however, has a financial threshold that everyone must meet in order to qualify. By giving your agent the power to transfer money out of your name in your general durable POA, you could qualify for Medicare and ultimately protect your life savings.

Eligibility

These services are available to all eligible clients, not just deploying Airmen. The following individuals are eligible for legal assistance: all active duty service members (regardless of military branch affiliation); Reservists, National Guard members, contract ROTC cadets on Title 10 orders; retired military members and their spouses; dependents of service members/former members with valid military identification; and civilian contractors deploying (under limited circumstances).

Eligible clients may make an appointment with a legal assistance attorney by calling (806) 605-6200. Appointments are available Monday through Wednesday. The legal office also offers a walk-in hour every Thursday from 1300-1400. You can find out more information at our legal assistance website at https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil. The legal office will make special efforts to accommodate deploying Airmen, even on short notice.

Preparing to deploy can be stressful. If you get tasked to deploy, make sure you stop by the legal office early so that your family's welfare is one less burden to carry with you. The legal office can equip you with a full legal spectrum of tools as you prepare for a successful mission down range.