If you have a loved one in the armed services, you probably know the worries associated with military life. It is a life with many uncertainties: where is the next duty station; when is the next deployment; when is the next phone call home? However, you can help with the preparation for an upcoming deployment by taking on some legal and financial responsibilities. This can alleviate some of your loved one’s worries and provide for a level of certainty that some matters back home are under control.
Without careful planning, a family member, other than a spouse, has little authority to act on behalf of a deployed loved one. In some cases, family members may not even be aware of the need to act. Before deployment, military personnel and their families should talk about important issues that will need to be addressed during deployment. These include taxes, real estate or rental properties (including investment and vacation properties), automobile payments and insurance, life and property insurance, credit cards, and any recent installment purchases (common for large purchases such as televisions and washers). Additionally, it is essential to talk about any upcoming or current litigation, including both civil and criminal proceedings. A simple traffic ticket can become a big headache if left unattended. By simply talking about these issues, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is one of the best ways to make sure that you can take care of these and other law-related issues for a deployed loved one. A power of attorney is a written document in which servicemembers (the principal) grant certain authority to someone they trust (the agent or “attorney in fact”) to act on their behalf. A power of attorney may be very specific, authorizing a person to sell a car, for example. Or it can be very broad, allowing the agent to do almost anything on the principal’s behalf. Military personnel can use a power of attorney to give a family member or friend the ability to access bank accounts, make rent or mortgage payments, make car payments, and pay utilities and other bills.
It is important to note that a power of attorney isn’t a guaranteed solution for every situation. Some agencies may require additional documentation. For example, the Social Security Administration often requires you to fill out their specialized paperwork in order to be able to receive payments on behalf of another person. Many states will require you to use their specific forms if you wish to file someone else’s taxes. Regardless, a power of attorney is a good starting point and, at the very least, will document your deployed loved one’s intentions. Armed services support organizations can help you identify your options and assist you in the drafting of a power of attorney agreement.
Most powers of attorney are effective only as long as the principal (your loved one) has what the law calls “capacity.” The idea is that agents cannot do something that principals would not be able to do for themselves. So, if your loved one becomes incapacitated, your authority under a regular power of attorney is nullified. You can, however, draft a special power of attorney so that the agent’s power and authority extends through any incapacitation. Usually called a durable power of attorney, a document such as this clearly states the agent’s intent that the power continue after disability or incapacity. If such a situation is a realistic possibility, it is important to work with an attorney to draft any documents correctly and unambiguously.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides important protections for active duty servicemembers and is a key aspect to any military family’s deployment preparations. Under the SCRA, certain civilian obligations can be postponed or suspended during deployment. These include some credit card debt, mortgage payments, pending trials, some taxes, and residential leases. The SCRA protections apply to all servicemembers, Reservists, and members of the National Guard only while they are on active duty. Be aware that the SCRA is not a fail-safe and doesn’t eliminate all obligations, but it can help alleviate some worry.
Regardless of the plan you and your loved one decide on, it is important to talk through all of the obligations and responsibilities that will need attending to during deployment. Additionally, military members and their families should take full advantage of the services and support offered by the appropriate branch of the armed services. These legal, financial, and social services can provide invaluable help and support, both in preparing for deployment and during deployment.
Prior to any deployment, military personnel and their loved ones should make sure they have a plan for
- Making necessary payments, including
- Mortgage payments
- Insurance, including automobile, life, and property
- Car payments
- Utility bills
- Filing federal and state income taxes.
- Receiving any government benefits, such as Social Security.
- Handling any credit card debt and payments.
- Overseeing any legal proceedings.
- Drafting a power of attorney or, if needed, a durable power of attorney.