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What You Need to Know About Creating a Military Estate Plan in California

Estate planning is recommended for all people, no matter their income or family status. Most estate planning is straightforward, but some professions have unique factors to consider. Military personnel, for instance, have inherently dangerous jobs and so have different criteria. An experienced estate planning attorney in Los Angeles, CA, ensures that veterans and those in service have a will that clearly states their final wishes.

Estate Plans for the Military

While estate planning differs for military members compared to civilians, it still has many of the same components.

The Similarities

These two components are similar, to a point.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is crucial because it provides your loved ones with financial security while your estate goes through the probate process. However, insurance companies typically charge higher premiums for people in high-risk jobs, which definitely includes active duty military service.

Fortunately, there are insurance providers who specialize in life insurance for military personnel. These include:

  • Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI), which can include traumatic injury protection (TSGLI), and a disability extension.
  • American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA)
  • Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
  • Service-Disabled Veterans' Life Insurance (S-DVI)

You must include any life insurance policies you have in your estate planning, not only so that your lawyer has a complete view of your assets but also so they have a complete view of your beneficiaries.

This is important because the designated beneficiaries for your life insurance supersede those named in your will. Your estate planning lawyer will help you keep track of the details of your estate so you can change them if necessary.

Wills and Trusts

Wills are what people usually think of when it comes to estate planning. They specify your final wishes regarding your burial and the distribution of your estate and include essential details about your children's legal guardians.

Trusts are different. They are spaces where you can transfer assets, which are then held and managed according to your wishes; for example, after five years, the capital amount and interest are to be divided between your three children.

Your specialist Los Angeles estate planning lawyer will help you draw up your will or set up a trust according to what is most beneficial to you and your loved ones.

The Differences

This is where the elements diverge.

Veteran Benefits

Military veterans can be eligible for a variety of benefits issued by the Department of Veteran Affairs. In some instances, the benefits carry over to military families and must be included in estate planning. Some benefits, however, cease when the veteran dies.

Read: Estate Planning for Veterans Benefits – Aid and Attendance

For example:

There is a benefit called the VA Pension, which has three levels. It's not a pension in the strictest sense because it's available while you're still alive. The majority of veterans and their spouses are eligible for at least some of the benefits, although many aren't aware that the VA Pension applies to them.

California provides a number of additional benefits for veterans, including:

  • Tuition assistance is available for veterans' children who attend college within the California State University system.
  • Property tax exemptions for disabled veterans
  • Preferred mortgage rates
  • Refinancing from the VA home loan program

There are also Survivor Benefit Plans (SBP), which are monthly payments for your spouse and children.

All of which you must discuss with your estate planning attorneys in Los Angeles so they can make provisions for them in your estate plan.

Traditional Will vs. Military Will

Wills have to meet certain requirements for them to be valid.

According to the requirements of a traditional will, you must:

  • Be an adult of sound mind
  • Confirm that the will is indeed yours (no coercion)
  • Sign and date the document before at least two witnesses

Due to the high-risk nature of the job, wills for military personnel have more lenient requirements.

According to the requirements of a military will:

  • You can be a minor.
  • You needn't be of entirely sound mind and body.
  • It doesn't matter if the will is written or oral.
  • You only need one witness, depending on the situation.
  • It includes only your personal estate and not real estate.

What Goes Into a Military Will?

We've seen what a military will doesn't need, but what should it include? Your Los Angeles estate planning attorney will give you the details, but in essence, they should include:

Two Powers of Attorney, one to make financial decisions (a durable power of attorney) if you're incapacitated and one 

to make health care decisions. Your designated Power of Attorney for health care must know your wishes for various scenarios and be able to carry them out, even if they are difficult.

For example, respect your wishes for a do-not-resuscitate order. It's called a living will or advance health care directive and must be a legally valid document to prove to your loved ones that this is what you really want.

Other Elements to Consider Include:

The following elements don't have to be in your will, but you should at least have considered most of them.

  • Legal guardians for minor children or children you support financially, including those with special needs
  • Funeral and burial arrangements. Keep in mind that you might be eligible for a military funeral and burial, including military accolades.
  • Organ donation
  • Family care plans
  • Estate taxes (which differ by state)
  • Estate administration, which includes probate. Remember, a military lawyer isn't allowed to represent you in court, but your estate attorney can.
  • Distribution of assets or naming beneficiaries

Read: How to Plan for an Aging Parent’s Needs

McKenzie Legal & Financial Keeps Your Military Estate Planning In Order

The last element in the process of estate planning is to store it somewhere safe. Many people think that the best place for important legal documents is a safe deposit box. Some states have laws against opening safe deposit boxes after the owner's death. The best place to keep your documents safe is with your estate planning attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

McKenzie Legal & Financial provides all the military estate planning services you need, including secure storage and protection of the documents until you need them - preferably when you check in and update the file every few years.

Gain peace of mind by trusting your California estate planning documents to our experienced estate lawyer in Los AngelesCall 562-594-4200 or complete the contact form on our website to book a free consultation.

Thomas McKenzie Law
Estate Planning Attorney in California. Full-service law firm specializing in estate plans, wills and trusts, long-term care, and financial consulting. Thomas L. McKenzie received his Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law, in Fullerton, California. While working full-time at night and attending full-time daily classes, Tom graduated law school with honors in 1993.

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