Ask a JAG: Everyone should have a will … just in case

 “Do you hear that sound, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.” – from “The Matrix,” Agent Smith counsels Neo on the need for a proper estate plan.


By Capt. Matthew N. Karchaske
Judge Advocate, Chief of Client Services
Stuttgart Legal Center

Q:  My first sergeant told me I need to get a will before I deploy, but I don’t know why I would need one. Can I just tell her I’m going to Legal and go take a nap in the barracks?

A:  Death comes for all of us eventually – perhaps sooner, for those of us using “going to Legal” as an excuse to nap during the duty day.

And once the pain and sadness of your death passes (and sometimes before), most of your family members start wondering, “Where’s my share?”  If you failed to take the proper steps in life, that question results in a great deal of uncertainty.

A will governs the distribution of assets in your estate at the end of the probate process.  “Probate,” from the Latin probare, “to prove,” is the formal process by which the courts determine which of your assets belonged to you at the time of your death, and which ones actually belong to your creditors. If you die without a will, and if there is anything left over after the vultures are finished, your state’s Intestacy Laws take over, which could result in all of your property falling into the insatiable hands of the state (the legal term for this tragedy of governance is “escheat”).

If you don’t have many assets, you may think that you do not need a will.

“But those guys aren’t looking at the big picture,” said John Matlock, Esq., senior U.S. Civilian Legal Assistance Attorney at the Stuttgart Legal Center. “A wrongful death suit or substantial insurance payout could balloon the estate long after the chance to create a will has passed.”

A will is an essential part of every estate plan, but it should be the failsafe, the bare minimum, the “just in case.” A good estate plan uses a number of devices to avoid probate (and its inherent uncertainty) altogether, if possible. Insurance policies, accounts with rights of survivorship, and trusts are just a few of the options available. While the Legal Assistance Office only offers drafting and execution of U.S. wills, our U.S.-licensed attorneys can advise on all aspects of your estate plan.

For more information on wills and your estate plan, contact the Legal Assistance Office on Kelley Barracks at 421-4613 or 0711-7294152.