Prepare for the worst: Wills and financial planning for Service Members

When you’re in the military, planning ahead is part of your mission to keep yourself and others safe. On the home front, that includes making plans and thinking ahead about what would happen to your family if something ever happened to you. While illness and death are circumstances most people don’t want to think about, the higher-than-average risk of being in harm’s way when you’re a Service Member means you need to plan in advance to make sure your family is prepared and your wishes are followed.

What is a will?

A last will and testament is a written declaration that outlines how you want your money, property, and other assets (called your estate) to be distributed when you pass away. If you have children under age 18, your will should include information about who will become the children’s legal guardians. Without a valid will that meets the requirements of the state, distribution of your assets and assignment of your children’s guardians will be decided by a judge. In addition to outlining your wishes, you might also assign an executor or personal representative to make sure your instructions are carried out, or “executed” as you’ve specified.

A will must be executed under specific circumstances (outlined by state law) in order to be considered legal.

A living will is a different type of legal document that explains what sort of medical treatment or end-of-life care you want (or don’t want) when you’re no longer able to communicate it yourself. A living will is not part of your last will and testament, but it can be another important document to prepare. A living will describes your healthcare preferences if you’re on life support, become terminally ill, or fall into a coma. Because a living will cannot describe your wishes for every possible scenario, you also have the option of assigning a healthcare power of attorney—someone you trust to make healthcare decisions if you’re unable to do so.   

What is life insurance?

Life insurance pays a sum of money to someone you choose as a “beneficiary”—often your partner, child, or other family member—when you die. Insurance payouts can help cover unexpected expenses at the end of life, or help support your family for a time after the loss of your income.

Active-duty Service Members can enroll in Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI), but many other life insurance companies and types of policies exist. In addition, you might be eligible for Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI), which gives financial assistance to your family while you recover from traumatic injuries. You also might want to consider buying extra, or “supplemental,” life insurance if you’re worried the SGLI payout isn’t enough to cover your beneficiaries’ living expenses.

Bottom line

It’s not easy to think about your death or plan for worst case scenarios. But as a Service Member, considering that possibility is part of your reality. It’s important to plan ahead and learn about the different ways you can prepare your estate and safeguard your family financially in the event of injury or death. Consider a reaching out to a lawyer, base legal, or a financial counselor to discuss the right options for you and your family.

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Aeronautical Systems Center Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. (2007). What military families should know about wills. In. OH: Wright-Patterson AFB. Retrieved 26 February 2020 from

Anunobi, E., Detweiler, M. B., Sethi, R., Thomas, R., Lutgens, B., & Detweiler, J. G. (2015). Comparison of advance medical directive inquiry and documentation for hospital inpatients in three medical services: Implications for policy changes. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 27(2), 156–172. doi:10.1080/08959420.2014.983356

Duffy, S. A., Ronis, D., Fowler, K., Schim, S. M., & Jackson, F. C. (2006). Differences in veterans' and nonveterans' end-of-life preferences: A pilot study. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 9(5), 1099–1105. doi:10.1089/jpm.2006.9.1099

Kan, S. W. (2010). Setting servicemembers up for more success: Building and transferring wealth in a challenging economic environment—A tax and estate planning analysis. Army Law, 52. Retrieved 26 February 2020 from