Ask a JAG

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Q: I am preparing to deploy. What legal documents should I have prepared before I go?

A: Individual needs for legal documents will vary. In most cases, service members can prepare for deployment by executing just a few legal documents. This column will describe the most common estate-planning documents, but service members should consult an attorney to determine their individual needs.

A will, or last will and testament, controls your estate at death. It can be revoked at any time and has no effect as long as you are alive.  It can control the disposition of your property, appoint a personal representative to settle your estate, and express your wishes about guardianship of your children and disposition of your remains. If you were to die without a will, then a court would distribute your property and settle your estate under the laws of “intestacy,” the default rules for these situations.

An advanced medical directive, or “living will,” makes known a person’s wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatments. For example, the document could express your desire to terminate life support in the event that you had a terminal, incurable medical condition.

A medical power of attorney appoints someone to make medical care decisions for you in the event that you cannot make them for yourself. It applies to more situations than a living will. Essentially, a medical power of attorney allows a trusted family member or friend to manage your care if you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney is simply a written authorization for someone (your “agent”) to act on your behalf. A special POA allows your agent to do only specific things that you identify (e.g., ship household goods).

A general POA gives your agent complete authority to make any and all non-medical decisions for you. It can be very useful, but it is also a potentially dangerous legal document, as it allows your agent to do almost anything in your name (e.g., take out a loan or empty your bank account). Before executing a POA, you should carefully consider the scope and effectiveness of the document.

Ordinarily, a POA expires if you become mentally disabled — perhaps the time when you need it the most. However, a durable POA remains effective as long as you are alive or until you revoke it. A springing, durable POA takes effect only when you are unable to manage your own affairs.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.