The Three Legal Documents Every Military Family Needs
Ask anyone in the military community, and they’ll tell you that nothing is ever very predictable. From rapid deployments to extended cruise times, it’s entirely possible that at some point, you and your family might benefit from having one of these three critical documents.
Take some uncertainty out of the equation when you discuss which of these documents your family needs. Then, visit your installation Legal Office to speak with a military advocate to help you and your family prepare these documents - before they’re needed. Military advocate services are free to you and the best time to prepare for an emergency is ahead of time.
Military Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney (POA) might sound like a complicated thing you don't need, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
At some point, your spouse is going to ask if you can help them with specific personal business that they can’t do on their own - either because they’re deployed, stuck in the field, or just can’t get away from the office long enough to handle the task. This might include paying bills, managing banking or insurance information, or selling property. Equally valid, at some point, you’re going to need to make swift decisions without your spouse, or you’ll need to get a new military ID, arrange for a PCS pick up, or ship a vehicle.
But to hand off these responsibilities or authorize you to perform these actions, your spouse needs to create and sign a Power of Attorney (POA). The POA designates you as their representative and is a legally binding tool that issues you the authority to act on behalf of your spouse.
Every installation has a military legal assistance office where an attorney can help you and your spouse prepare a POA. These services are free to service members and their authorized dependents. Your local installation will be able to direct you to the Legal Office.
A POA consists of two parties - the principal and the agent. The principal is the person who designates that another person (the agent) is authorized to act on their behalf for whatever business the POA permits.
Imagine your spouse is heading out on a cruise that’s expected to last six months. Your military ID is going to expire before they return, but it’s too early for you to renew it before they leave, and your spouse is required to be at the ID office with you. So what can you do? You don’t want to lose access to your installation and all of the resources available to you. So, you create a POA that states your spouse gives legally binding authority for you to sign in their place when you renew your ID card. This is called a “specific” or “special” POA.
Or, imagine that your spouse is leaving for a deployment. You know that communication with them will be limited, and you’re not sure if you’re going to need what you might need while they’re away. So you go to the Legal Office on your installation and create a general POA that will authorize you to act on their behalf for various issues that may arise while they’re away.
Types of POAs
As mentioned above, there are two types of POAs - general POAs and specific POAs. A general POA allows you (the agent) to conduct most kinds of business on behalf of the principal. In the two examples above, a general POA would be best suited for the second situation, where a spouse might not know what type of authorization they will need while the service member is away.
A specific POA is precisely as it sounds - it allows you (the agent) to conduct specifically listed transactions. For example, you can’t do anything on behalf of your spouse (the principal) unless the POA explicitly states it.
There are additional types of POAs that might be useful for you and your family to arrange ahead of time. As always, consult your legal assistance office about when a POA might be necessary, the POA that is right for your situation, and any other situations which might require a POA. One final note about POAs - this binding legal document can be granted to anyone, not just spouses.
The final two documents, a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament, are never any fun to think about and plan for, but they’re an essential part of your military family’s contingency planning. Even if the service member’s spouse isn’t facing deployment, it’s a good idea to have both of these documents prepared.
A Living Will is a legal way to organize end-of-life wishes for making decisions about life-sustaining treatment for someone who is not expected to live. It’s a very important document if you have strong feelings about how you want to be cared for if you were in an unresponsive state. A Last Will and Testament is something that most military families should have, but many don’t have. When someone dies without a will, generic state rules apply, and if necessary, a court will decide how property is distributed and who will care for any surviving remaining family members.
It’s never fun to think about the unexpected, but it’s wise to be prepared. Having a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament along with a General or Specific Power of Attorney can arm you and your military family with the resources you need to confront the unexpected. For more information about these three legal documents, consult your local legal assistance office.