SRPs and a Legal "Check Up"
SRP Might Be Too Late for a 'Legal Checkup'
Many soldiers make the mistake of waiting until their unit has an SRP to make or change (by making a new one) their last will and testament or Power of Attorney (POA). This is the wrong approach to thinking about these extremely important legal matters. Soldiers and commanders need to recognize the importance of having a 'Legal Checkup' sooner rather than later.
First, you must understand that you face the risk of death every day. Soldiers are in one of the most dangerous occupations around. Military training exposes soldiers to great risks even though the command does everything in its power to decrease those risks. Some soldiers don't consider themselves "in harms way" until they are about to deploy. This isn't the smartest way to approach life or life in the military when it comes to your will.
Also, every-day life holds its own risks for everyone, not just soldiers. You take a risk every morning when you get in your vehicle and drive to work. You take a risk when you go boating or water-skiing. Even though the risks of death may be very small in most circumstances, they are still there. Sometimes, it does not matter how careful or cautious you are.
Additionally, there are limitations to what a legal assistance attorney can do for you at an SRP. Your options are limited. So are your attorney's. SRPs process hundreds of soldiers in a day. Although the attorneys will do everything in their power to ensure you have a will that meets your intent, they also have a professional obligation to make sure that they can take the time to do it right. If they cannot, they will tell you that you will have to schedule an appointment at the legal assistance office. If you then decide to make a will at the SRP that doesn't accurately represent your desires for the disposition of your property at your death (because you are in a hurry), you have most likely made a bad decision. Not only that, it is a decision that you probably wouldn't have had to make had you thought about your personal affairs before the SRP. SRPs are not the time to start thinking about what you would like to do with your property at your death. A will is a legal document of great importance that you should take your time to think about.
Soldiers with legal residence in Puerto Rico and Louisiana! - You need to know that you cannot have your will done at an SRP. Military attorneys cannot do Puerto Rican wills at all. Military attorneys can assist you in obtaining a will for Louisiana, but the process that they need to go through takes some time. Even if you are identified as being from Louisiana and in need of a will at an SRP, your deployment date may make it impossible to get the will done before you leave. If you are a legal resident of Puerto Rico or Louisiana, you need to see a legal assistance attorney ASAP to discuss your options for making a will.
If you have a will, you should consider making a new one any time you have a major change in your life. Some good examples are: when you have a child (or another child); when you get married; when you get divorced; and, when someone you named in your will has died. You usually cannot make pen and ink changes to a will that you already have. Although this may work under some state laws if done correctly, you are taking a significant risk if you are not sure what the law in your state is. Your safest legal option is almost always revoking your old will and making a new one. There are many other reasons you may want to make a new will. If you think you might need to, you should speak with an attorney. And, you shouldn't wait until the SRP to do it!
Finally, most soldiers don't understand what a powerful document a Power of Attorney (POA) can be. Granting a POA to anyone, including your spouse, is a significant legal act that you should not take lightly. In many cases, soldiers do not need a POA to ensure that their personal affairs stay in order during a deployment. Also, some soldiers do not have anyone that they can trust enough to give a POA. You should always talk with an attorney before granting anyone a POA. If you choose not to speak with an attorney, you should read the POA carefully to understand what you are authorizing them to do for you. Again, you need to give it some thought before you go to an SRP or family briefing and have one done.
For more information about anything covered in this article, or to schedule an appointment with a legal assistance attorney, call 239-3117. This article provides only general information and is not intended as individual legal advice for any individual's or family's legal situation or personal circumstances.