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Ever since I can remember, the Fourth of July has been one of my favorite holidays. As a child, Independence Day meant three things: barbecue, friends, and fireworks. As a dad, it’s special getting to create new traditions with my wife and my four boys. Every year, we get up early and stake out our spot in front of Schertz Bank for the annual 4th of July Parade, then head home to grill up some lunch before going back to the Schertz 4th of July Jubilee for carnival food, live music, and of course: Fireworks.

As a father, I find that July 4th has taken on a greater meaning for me. While I still enjoy being outside, eating good food and watching the fireworks, I am reminded of those who have and continue to sacrifice so that we may enjoy these freedoms. I desire to instill an appreciation for this holiday in my boys. Independence Day represents the freedoms that we often take for granted. We would have none of these freedoms if our forefathers hadn’t stood up against the oppressive rulers they faced. We would have none of these freedoms if it were not for the brave sacrifice of the countless men and women who proudly serve our country.

As an Estate Planning Attorney, I feel a special burden for the families of those who so selflessly protect our freedoms and our families. Indeed, I consider it the highest honor to serve those who serve our country, and the need is great: Military families face unique challenges and they require special planning. The following four questions are important for military members to consider when making contingency plans.

Have you updated the beneficiaries to your financial accounts since you joined the military or since you have separated from the military?

Members of the military need to focus on making sure they have beneficiaries named appropriately for their spouses and/or children. There are several different types of accounts that need to be addressed. For example, the Thrift Savings Plan, Life Insurance plans, your bank accounts, retirement benefits. There may be others as well. It is important to make sure that your beneficiary designations line up with your wishes in a will. It is important to remember that the will probably will not control these beneficiary choices unless you specifically state that. Often, individuals will name their minor child as the beneficiary on a life insurance or retirement account. This can create unnecessary burdens on allowing the money to be accessed for the benefit of the child. It is important to discuss possible trust planning with your attorney so that it can be clear how the money or property should be allocated.

Have you reviewed the military’s survivor benefits programs?

Make sure that you take the time to understand the different survivor benefits programs. This is especially important if you have a child or beneficiary that has a disability. If handled properly, your benefits can pay into a Special Needs Trust for your beneficiary, which will help preserve their eligibility for government assistance programs like Medicaid and Social Security.

What types of documents do I need to protect my loved ones in the event that I cannot?

For your children, it is important to have a document entitled, “Appointment of Guardian for Children in the Case of Death or Incapacity.” This document does exactly what the title suggests: it allows you to name a person to step in and care for your children in the case that you are unable to. This prevents the family from having to wonder or fight about what your wishes were. In addition, you can set up a trust to make sure that the money is a benefit rather than a means for destruction to a child who may not be ready to handle a large sum of cash. A trust is simply a relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary. You get to choose the trustee who manages the trust and the trustee has the job of making sure the property in the trust is used for the benefit of the person or persons you designate. The trustee can be a family member, a friend, or a professional.

Who makes my healthcare decisions if I cannot?

It is important that you clarify through advanced directives such as a Medical Power of Attorney and the Directive to Physicians not only who you want making your medical decisions in the event of your incapacity, but also how you want those decisions to be made. The person you choose should not only be someone that you trust and who cares deeply for you, but also someone that you believe will be able to have clarity and understanding when speaking with doctors and nurses on your behalf. In addition, the person should be someone who will be a strong advocate for you if it doesn’t appear your care is being handled appropriately.

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