Wills take care of your loved ones if needed

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Meyer
  • 908th Airlift Wing
Many of us often don't address or think about the need for a will and related legal matters until a deployment or family emergency occurs. By that point, we are in a crunch between predeployment training, civilian employment and tending to family-personal issues.

A good preventative legal measure we can easily address before these issues present themselves is thinking about a will, Power of Attorney, and SGLI or other life insurance.

A will is a legal document -- executed by the reserve member (testator), drafted by legal counsel, and signed by and in the presence of two witnesses -- that conveys your tangible and intangible property and assests (estate) to named primary and contingent beneficiaries upon your death.

This property usually includes the testator's real property (i.e. residence and/or other land) and personal property, usually as in vehicles, furniture, various collections (coins, weapons), and other personal items and possessions. A testator can specifically name "specific bequests," meaning specific personal property will pass to a named beneficiary.

A common scenario for estate distribution occurs when the testator executes a will naming the spouse as primary beneficiary and minor children as contingent beneficiaries. The testator's named personal representative receives the executed will, keeps it in a secure location and manages and oversees the probate process to make sure the intent and asset distribution is fulfilled.

A personal representative or executor and named beneficiary can be the same person.

Another common inquiry from servicemembers is whether to execute a will, and when should a new will be drafted. Several factors should be considered regarding will execution as well as "updating" a will. In this context, remember that an "update" usually means drafting and executing a completely new will and destroying (i.e. shredding) the existing one.

Don't make copies of a current will because the likelihood of a contest in civil court significantly increases if the original will/copies are produced and the testator has a subsequent executed will. A contest is particularly likely if either distributions amongst beneficiaries vary between the two wills, or if the named beneficiaries are different.

As a general rule, any individual of majority age and sound mind can execute their will. Typically, as one becomes more established the need to execute a will naturally increases. Moreover, if a servicemember encounters a "life-changing event," the need to execute a new will should be considered.

Life-changing events include:
1. birth or adoption of a child,
2. divorce or legal separation, and
3. remarriage and expanded families, including step-children.

Keep in mind there is no general expiration date for a will. A validly executed will remains effective. The main considerations are whether the distribution of assets and property accurately reflect one's intent and the occurrence of any life-changing event subsequent to the will's execution.

The 908th JAG Office utilizes the DL Wills Program which specifically addresses and incorporates the probate statutes for all U.S states and territories. A will questionnaire and ticket number is available to complete at:
https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil.

Any additional questions or comments can also be discussed at the 908th JAG Office. Future articles will address general/special POA's and related estate issues such as SGLI and distribution of other assets.