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Steps to Build an Estate Plan

Discover some common steps to make a well-informed estate plan.

As the old saying goes… “No one plans to fail, but people fail to plan.”

When it comes to building your estate plan, it’s never too early to start. This is especially true for military members and their spouses, as military life can be unpredictable.

Here are a few easy steps to put your plan into action:

  • Identify your goals

    Think about your estate planning priorities. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, loved ones you need to include, and causes you want to support. Consider the needs of your spouse, children, parents, and other loved ones who depend on you.

  • Inventory your things

    Before you decide who should get what, make a detailed list of every single asset and liability in your name. This list should include property, vehicles, bank accounts, investment and retirement accounts, insurance policies, liabilities, and personal assets. Also, take note of how the account or asset is titled since the legal implications can be significant to your estate plan.

  • Establish your key documents

    An estate planning attorney at your installation’s Legal Assistance Office can help you create important legal documents to achieve your goals. Think carefully about the people you choose to include in these documents, as they will be called upon to serve in the roles you designate or appoint.

    Key documents could include a will, power of attorney, advanced medical directives, trust, family care plan and letter of instruction.

    Learn more about these documents in Key Estate Planning Documents.

  • Review beneficiaries

    Your key legal documents will spell out many of your final wishes, but they may not be all-inclusive. Retirement accounts and insurance policies usually require beneficiary designations to direct where these assets go after you’re gone. Remember, who you designate as a beneficiary will take precedence over your will, so make sure the right people, trust or organizations are named.

  • Maintain your family care plan

    A family care plan guides caregivers by providing important details about child care, school, medical care and family activities. Service members are required to have an official family care plan and keep it updated.

  • Update your DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data

    This document records your wishes about several critical issues for Service members such as:

    • How and whom applicable entitlements are to be distributed if you die
    • Person Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD) of your remains if you die
    • Next of kin to be notified in an emergency
  • Document your military career

    It may be helpful for Service members to write their own military obituary since spouses and dependents may not be privy to their achievements.

  • Revisit your plan

    An estate plan lives and breathes just as long as you do, and after! Periodically take time to revisit your plan to ensure everything is still correct. Remember to review your plan with any significant life event such as a new child, marriage, divorce or death.