Office of the Staff Judge Advocate
521 Fraim Street
Fort Detrick, Maryland 21702
Estate Planning Basics
ESTATE PLANNING has a lasting effect on you and your family. What you do now affects what they may have after you die. Your plan may include one or more of these: Will; Advance Medical Directive ("living will"); Durable Power Of Attorney for Health Care; Durable Power Of Attorney in case of incompetence; Life Insurance; a trust (possibly in a will); a Letter of Instruction, and an anatomical gift designation (often on your driver's license).
A properly executed will leaves instructions to a probate court about your intended property distribution. It may provide simple instructions or may contain a trust. A will is especially important for parents with young children. In this situation, you should name a guardian (and preferably a backup) for your children in case the natural parent also dies while the children are minors. You may name a trustee to manage your property and properly invest on behalf of your children until they attain the age of majority (21). Consider carefully who you trust with these important duties. You should also discuss your wishes with all of those named to ensure that they know that you named them, and what your desires are.
You must plan carefully and that requires you think about your situation, family, and desires. If you are active duty military, don't wait until the SRP to consider this important matter. Do so now while you have the time to reflect.
Please call the Legal Assistance Office for an appointment at 301-619-2221/2065.
Enter the Main Gate (7th Street), take an immediate left turn onto Porter Street, take your third right onto Fraim Street. We are located on the left side in front of the water tower, Bldg 521.
Estate Planning Guide [PDF]
produced by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, MRMC and Fort Detrick.
For more information about preparing your will read the Federal Consumer Information Center's Life Advice publication, Making a Will, http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/money/will/makewill.htm .
Death is inevitable - sooner or later we're all going to die. Before we do, there are some actions we should take to put our affairs in order. We can do so by planning our estate. Here are some introductory questions and answers on estate planning.
Q. Do I have an estate? If so, what is in my estate?
A. Probably. If you own any property you have an estate - everything you own, whether a car, a house, personal effects, a coin collection, money, etc., is part of your estate. Even items that you own jointly with right of survivorship are part of your estate at death.
Q. What is estate planning?
A. Estate planning is a process of making decisions during your lifetime about the use, maintenance, and disposal of your real estate, investments, social security, cash, life insurance, and business interests. It involves not only accumulating wealth during your life, but disposing of it when you no longer want it or after you die. Done properly, it protects your heirs from a legal headache after you die.
Q. Why should I plan my estate?
A. There are lots of reasons - piece of mind by knowing that your desires are recorded and your property will be disposed of as you want. If you don't prepare a will that provides decisions about your estate, it could be years before your property is awarded to your heirs, or it could be transferred to them and distributed in ways you didn't intend. A well-designed estate plan can save you and your heirs money, provide for children of previous marriages, nominate a guardian for minor children, establish a trust to preserve your assets for minor children until they reach the age you set for distribution of the trust. A coordinated estate plan considers your Servicemen's Group Life Insurance (SGLI) beneficiary designation together with any commercial life insurance policy you may have. It anticipates a possible incapacity and memorializes your desires regarding medical care in the event of a terminal condition.
Q. Do I need an estate plan?
A. Almost everyone does whether or not they're rich. Estate planning can be critical to the health, security, and welfare of your loved ones. It is one way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out after you're gone. To decide what your estate plan should include, consider these questions:
- Who will provide for my surviving spouse and children?
- Who will pay for my children's college education?
- Who will pay for my burial expenses, estate settlement, taxes and other debts?
- Will my heirs be treated fairly when my property is distributed?
- Do I want to make gifts to my heirs before I die?
- How high will the taxes be on my estate, and how can I reduce these taxes?
Q. What should I do next?
A. The first step in preparing your estate plan is to discuss with your family and determine needs and objectives.
Q. How will my family know where to find my will or my other estate planning documents?
A. Prepare a letter of instruction to cover -
- Are you donating any organs? If so, how have you expressed that intent? Where is that document?
- Who should be notified about your death and funeral?
- Do you want a funeral or a memorial ceremony? If so, what type?
- Do you want people to send flowers, or would you prefer donations to charity?
- Did you prepare a will or living trust? Where is the original?
- Did you own a life insurance policy, pension, retirement account or annuity? Where are the documents stored?
- Where did you have bank accounts? Did you have a safe deposit box?
- Did you have stocks, bonds, or money in mutual funds? Where are the records?
- What real estate did you own? Where are the deeds?
Q. How can the legal assistance office help?
A. Your local legal assistance office may advise you on coordinating your estate planning documents - your will, your SGLI beneficiary designation, a power of attorney, an advance medical directive, life insurance. You may find out more about estate planning generally on the web:
- Visit USAA Education Foundation's web site for a general discussion of estate planning. Information there covers legal considerations, estate planning tools, probate, property ownership, and gift giving strategies.
- Visit FreeAdvice.com's Estate Planning for a discussion of estate planning generally. Coverage includes what is estate planning; what is an estate; a description/discussion of typical estate planning documents; probate, and other related topics.
- Visit Nolo.com's Self-Help Law Center to see general information on estate planning - wills, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, trust, estate & gift taxes.
Hyperlinks are for convenience and information only, and are not an endorsement of the site, its content, or any products or services shown on such site.
Remember, information on the Internet may not be current when you view it. Be sure to check with appropriate, knowledgeable advisors to discuss your specific circumstances. The general legal information is available to help you understand, but is not a substitute for personal legal advice from an attorney. Contact your legal assistance office if you have additional questions or desire more information.