A critical part of deployment readiness is being ready-to-go at a moment’s notice, and that includes being legally prepared. Trying to resolve personal legal issues from overseas or while deployed is not just difficult, it can be costly, time-consuming, and sometimes impossible. Below are steps you can take in order to keep yourself and your family legally ready. Of course, this cheat-sheet is not an all-inclusive list. If you have a unique circumstance or issue, seek legal assistance as soon as possible in order to remain deployable.
SUPPORT: Ensure that your dependents will have adequate and continuous support while you are deployed. You can set up allotments, direct deposits, or consider having joint checking and savings accounts. Make sure that all dependents are registered in DEERS, especially newborns.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY: Consider executing special powers of attorney (SPOAs) to authorize people you trust to act on your behalf. Special SPOAs are useful documents for both married and single service members. A SPOA gives an agent power and authority to act for the principal for a special, limited purpose. For instance, a SPOA can enable someone to pay your bills, register your car, pay your taxes, ship your household goods, care for your children on a short-term basis, and do a multitude of other things.
FAMILY CARE PLAN: Dual-military and single parent military members must complete a Family Care Plan designating an individual to take care of children during deployment. The person designated as the caregiver must sign the form agreeing to the plan (See NAVADMIN 142.91). A family care plan should be supported by an in-loco parentis power of attorney, updated each year. If you have children with anyone other than your current spouse, remember that Family Care Plans are not a replacement for a custody order, and the non-custodial parent can/may challenge the care plan in your absence.
WILLS: Draft or update your will, particularly if you have a child or recently got married. If you die without a will, your property will be distributed in accordance with state intestacy laws. Normally, the property will go first to your spouse, then your children, then your parents, and then to your brothers/sisters, nieces/nephews, and other close relatives. If you have minor children, wills are essential in order to name a guardian to raise them and/or a custodian or trustee to hold assets.
MEDICAL DIRECTIVES: An advanced medical directive is a written document that specifies your wishes about your medical care in the event you become unable to communicate or make your own choices. A durable health care power of attorney appoints someone as your agent to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. A living will lets you state in advance what (if any) life-sustaining treatment you would like to receive.
LIFE INSURANCE: Ensure all life insurance beneficiaries are up-to-date. For instance, divorce does not automatically change the beneficiary, and life insurance proceeds will NOT pass through your will because your policy is a contract between you and the life insurance company. You can name a child as a beneficiary, but the money will go to the child’s guardian until the child reaches the age of majority. If you want to leave insurance proceeds to your children, and want someone other than the other biological parent to manage the children’s money, you must see an attorney.
LEASES: Under the SCRA, servicemembers can only break a lease if they have valid PCS orders or if the servicemember is deploying for a period of more than 90 days (see 50 U.S.C. App. §535 for more information). Written notice to the landlord along with the copy of the relevant orders are required under the SCRA to break residential leases. The SCRA also allows servicemembers to break vehicle leases and cell phone contracts under certain circumstances. If you currently live overseas, contact your local housing office to begin the process of lease termination well in advance of your deployment or PCS date as the rules may differ slightly.
CREDIT REPORT ACTIVE DUTY ALERT: To help avoid identity theft, add an “Active Duty Alert” to your credit reports by calling any one of the three credit reporting agencies listed below (calling one agency will automatically put the alert on file with the others). The active duty alert requires the agencies to contact you directly to verify your identity if someone requests credit in your name. You should also regularly check your credit history and are entitled to a free annual reports at www.annualcreditreport.com.
UNIFORMED SERVICES EMPLOYMENT AND REEMPLOYMENT RIGHTS ACT (USERRA): USERRA ensures that servicemembers (primarily reservists) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers, are promptly reemployed upon return from duty, and are not discriminated against in employment because of their military service. If you believe you have been discriminated against or denied your right to return to your job after deployment, call the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) at 1-800-336-4590.