To will, or not to will?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nathan Dampf
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
During the 131st Bomb Wing's annual training week, I had the opportunity to visit with Lt. Col. Jason Klumb, 131st Bomb Wing staff judge advocate, and Master Sgt. Erika McFarlane, the unit's superintendent, to discuss what services the JAG office provides.

While the legal office provides counsel to the 131st Bomb Wing commanders, it also supports Guardsmen by providing general legal assistance to all wing members.

McFarlane stated the office helps Airmen with deployment-related concerns, landlord and tenant issues, Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act guidance, and general legal questions.

Two services the legal team highly encourages Airmen take advantage of are drafting of wills and powers of attorney. To clarify some common misperceptions of these legal documents, Klumb and McFarlane offered some great tips during our question-and-answer session.

Dampf: First, I'd like to thank you for agreeing to sit down and explain the services of the legal office. I was hoping we can we start off by discussing simply, what is a will?

McFarlane: I always say, it's your voice after you die. It says what you want to have happen to your stuff when you're gone.

Dampf: How would you explain the difference between a will and a trust?

Klumb: Your will is your voice from the grave, a trust is your hand from the grave. They are complicated, costly and appropriate in some circumstances. Most things can be taken care of with a will.

Dampf: That being said, what would you say needs to be included in a will?

Klumb: Basically, who gets your things or who will take care of your children. Beneficiaries will receive your possessions, while guardians will be responsible for your children. You also need to name the executor of the will so that person can shepherd the estate and make sure everything in the will is given to the appropriate people. The executor is also in charge of paying your funeral expenses, court costs and any fees associated with your estate debts. You also need to include an alternate executor if your appointed executor is unwilling or unable to serve. This means the person you choose to be your executor will have a lot of responsibility. You should think very carefully about who you pick to be your executor.

McFarlane: Additionally, you can clarify when your beneficiaries receive the possessions or liquid assets. For example, if a divorced Airman dies and wants to leave her financial assets to her 8-year-old son, she can clarify in her will that the executor of the will can give all assets to her son once the son is 21 years old. This way, the executor is in control of the money, not the ex-spouse, even if the child lives with the ex-spouse. The will can also have language in it that allows the executor to withdraw funds to help support the minor child until they reach the age of majority and receive the remainder of the estate.

Dampf: With the significance of everything involved in a will, what are some consequences if a person does not have one?

McFarlane: The court will decide who gets your physical and liquid assets. A court will probably give your possessions and/or children to the next of kin. However, you may not like that individual or agree with giving your possessions to your next of kin. You also may disagree with having your children go to the court-named next of kin. That is why it is so important to have a will.

Klumb: That's also why it is most important for Airmen with families and minor children to have a will. If you don't say who will be the guardian, the court will make the decision for you.

Dampf: In addition to wills, are there any other documents you encourage Airmen to have?

McFarlane: Healthcare decisions can be taken care of in living wills. If you are in a vegetative state, who will make your end-of-life decisions? Or, if you are incapacitated and a doctor offers a new medical procedure as an option to help you, who will tell the doctor to perform the procedure since you can't? A person can grant someone, through a living will or healthcare directive, the power to make those decisions for them. It should be someone they trust and have already discussed their wishes with.

Klumb: That brings up another good point. Powers of attorney are very important, especially for deploying Airmen. If you want your brother or spouse, for example, to sell your vehicle or house, you can give them that power. Some of that can also be done with joint bank accounts or transferrable titles. You can clarify that a title can be transferrable on death. Or, by having a joint bank account, you ensure that the person has access to that money if you were to die.

McFarlane: Powers of attorney are required for single military members with a child, or military-married-to-military with children. Family care plans are also required through your first sergeant. Those members must have a plan in place before deployment so the child can be taken care of. A power of attorney can be drawn up that allows an individual, appointed by the parent, to take the child to the hospital if injured and do things like enroll the child in school. These are the most common powers of attorney we see in our unit.

That all sounds important. And, as a parent, I can't tell you I have thought of most of what you just mentioned.

McFarlane: They are important but, if not done correctly, they can be dangerous. General powers of attorney can be very broad. They basically say, "Whoever I'm giving the power to can, in essence, be me." That means you better be able to trust that person, because he or she can sell your car or your house, open up credit cards or apply for loans in your name. But, because of how broad they are, some places do not accept general powers of attorney even if they are being used legitimately. You should consider getting a special power of attorney. Special powers of attorney specify what you are allowing your appointed representative do in your name, such as care for your children, sell your car or complete your taxes, but are not overly broad and won't allow someone to sell your life while you're gone.

Dampf: I'd like to think my little brother wouldn't sell my car, but he may after all the trouble I gave him growing up. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Klumb: During the unit training assembly (UTA) weekends, Airmen can come up to Bldg. 509, Room 203. Our walk-in hours are 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sundays during UTAs. During the month, Airmen can call the 509th Bomb Wing legal office at (660) 687-6809 and ask them to leave a message for us.

Dampf: Thank you both so much for answering our questions and clarifying so many points.