Where there's a will, there's a way

  • Published
  • By Maj. Thomas Greenwood
  • 4th Fighter Wing
Chances are, most people you ask will not admit to having a will, or they will try to avoid the question altogether.

Wills can be an uncomfortable subject; none of us want to think about the end of our lives and what might happen after we are gone. Nevertheless, wills are very important legal documents, especially if you care about who ultimately receives your money and your property. Having a will allows you to decide who will make sure your property is dispersed according to your final wishes, or who will take custody of and provide for your children in the event of your death.

A Last Will and Testament is an instrument that outlines, in writing, how you want to posthumously distribute your estate. Your estate consists of the property belonging to you alone, that you own at the time of your death. This includes real estate, personal property such as vehicles, clothing, furniture, jewelry and financial assets including money and investments. It does not include life insurance proceeds and funds in certain retirement accounts, or in payable-on-death bank accounts, which pass to the person or people you designate. Nor does it include property you own with someone else, which will pass to the surviving co-owner(s).

If you die without a will, also known as an intestate, a court will act pursuant to state law and determine who will receive your property. Under this scheme, property will usually flow in varying amounts to your surviving blood relatives. If this notion of "intestate succession" is cause for concern, then executing a will ensures that your property will go to specific beneficiaries, family members or friends, whom you designate.

A will allows you to choose a guardian for your minor children in the event that something unexpected happens to you, and perhaps to your spouse. A "testamentary trust" can be added to your will to provide lasting care for a child or for a family member with special needs.

Having a will may even lead to certain tax advantages depending on the size of your estate.

You should keep your will up to date, stored in a location where you and your executor, the person named in your will that will administer your estate after your death, can find it and revisit it after any major life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child or death of a named beneficiary. Forgetting to keep your will current may result in unintended consequences. Your property will pass according to the will as originally written and not according to your revised wishes. You cannot change a will by making pen-and-ink modifications yourself; you typically have to execute an entirely new will that revokes your prior will to put your changes into effect. If you think changes are needed, it is best to consult with an attorney for advice.

Military members and retirees, along with dependents eligible to receive legal assistance, can make an appointment to have a will drafted at their local base legal office. Plan ahead; the legal office tries to give priority to deploying service members, and the appointment schedule fills quickly.

Before you call to make an appointment, you must visit the Air Force Legal Assistance website available at https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil, where you can access an electronic Will Worksheet. The worksheet provides nearly all of the information that an attorney will need to draft your will. When finished, you will receive a ticket number, which is used to schedule an appointment and allows a member of the legal office to retrieve your completed worksheet. Your attorney may ask some additional questions so he or she can tailor your will to suit your specific needs and desires. Paper forms are available from your servicing legal office upon request.

For more information about wills, and to make an appointment to consult with an attorney, call the 4th Fighter Wing legal office at (919) 722-5322.