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3 Must-Have Documents for Military Families

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Miltary FamilyUncertainty goes with the territory for military families, and with uncertainty comes all kinds of stress. There’s the big one: not knowing whether your loved one is alive and well. Then there’s the question of whether your family will have to relocate, or your loved one will be deployed. And with deployment, there’s the likelihood that you’ll be out of touch for days or weeks on end. Add to that the thousands of business details that every family needs to take care of, and there’s a lot to think about.

Whether it’s your spouse, adult child or another close family member who is serving, there are some crucial legal documents to take care of ahead of time. In some cases, you can even bypass the state-by-state rules and regulations that add red tape when you move around frequently.

1. Military Power of Attorney

You’ve probably heard of a Power of Attorney (POA), which allows you to choose someone to manage your financial, legal and personal affairs when you can’t. With a Military Power of Attorney, soldiers can give family members the power to act on their behalf without worrying about local requirements: the document is legally binding regardless of state laws. This simplifies things for spouses and other family members, who can cash a soldier’s paychecks, file tax returns, buy or sell a house, obtain military ID cards,  qualify for government housing and enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

All powers of attorney involve two parties: the person granting the authority, known as the grantor or principal, and the person who is given the power to act, known as the agent or attorney-in-fact.

There are also several different types of POAs, and they can be customized to your needs. The same goes for Military POAs. Think about whether you’d like your agent to be able to handle your affairs over a long period or just temporarily, and whether you only need certain things taken care of:

  •  A Durable POA applies for whatever time period you choose, even if you become incapacitated and cannot act for yourself.
  • A Non-Durable POA is void if you become incapacitated.
  • A Springing POA goes into effect at a specifically defined time, such as when you leave the country or if you’re injured.
  • A General POA grants sweeping powers for your agent to handle most financial and legal matters.
  • A Limited POA, also know as a specific or special POA, applies to only to the matters you specify. For example, you can designate someone to manage your checking account, or choose someone to act in loco parentis—in the place of a parent—to care for your children.
  • A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to choose someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

2. Living Will

A Living Will is often confused with a Last Will, but it’s a much more specific document. It’s a legal way to lay out wishes for one of the most stressful situations a family can face: making decisions about life-sustaining treatments for someone who is expected to die. Although you can use a Healthcare Power of Attorney to designate someone to act on your behalf for a wide range of medical issues, a  Living Will is written specifically for end-of-life decisions.

It’s also considered to be one of the cornerstones of a complete estate plan. It’s especially important to create one if you have strong feelings about how you would like to be cared for if you were in a coma or other unresponsive state. It could cover such topics as mechanical breathing, resuscitation and feeding tubes.

While it’s impossible to plan for every situation, a Living Will can give families clarity on how to make decisions during a very difficult time.

3. Last Will and Testament

Everyone needs a Will, but most people don’t have one. According to a recent Rocket Lawyer survey, that includes 60% of Americans. That number jumps to 70 percent for families with children under 18.

But when someone dies without a Will, generic state rules kick in, and a judge will likely decide how your property is distributed and who will care for your children.

If your loved one who is putting their life on the line, it’s critical for them to have a Will in place. If you’re a soldier, you’ll probably want to have a written record of your wishes—whether it’s specific, or just a general outline. You can also use a Will to name guardians for your children. Most importantly, a well-written Will provides a roadmap for a grieving family to navigate bureaucratic hassles.

Once you and your family members have created your legal documents, make sure they are stored in a safe place and that others know where they are.

Creating legal documents can be complex, and if you have any questions about which documents you need for your situation or how to proceed, you should consult with an attorney. You can also find more resources and help documents on Rocket Lawyer’s estate planning center. New Rocket Lawyer customers can make their first document for free.

About Laura Counts

Laura Counts is a writer and editor at Rocket Lawyer. She earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan and an M.J. from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She's curious about nearly everything, and believes everyone should have access to the systems that hold together our (imperfect and messy) democracy. Some of her personal interests include lying on warm granite next to cold mountain streams, early morning runs, spring in the Bay Area, summer in Vermont and just-baked chocolate chip cookies.
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