Legal Documents

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Legal Documents


A will is a legal expression or declaration of an

individual’s wishes concerning the disposition of his or her property after

death. It is always easier for

family members to take care of things if there is a legally executed will. If the military member dies without

leaving a will, personal and real property are distributed by state law, which

might not necessarily coincide with the way the deceased would have wanted

it. For assistance in preparing or updating/changing a will, contact the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Legal Office

in your state. This may seem like a particularly difficult thing to do, but you will want to take control instead of

letting the courts decide for you. A list of National Guard JAG officers can be found here:

Living Wills

Today, many states recognize advance medical directives (AMDs) or

“living wills”. You probably have heard or read of these. They really aren’t “wills” at all. An AMD is a

document you create while healthy that expresses your desires concerning the medical treatment you wish to

receive if you are incapable of making such a decision. It can also be used to

designate another person to make the decision for you in such a situation. 10 U.S. Code, section 1044c provides that an AMD

lawfully prepared by a legal assistance attorney has full effect in all 50

states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. If you become unable to make decisions

concerning your medical treatment, another person, called an “agent,” may make

such decisions for you. This person should know your desires concerning medical treatment, so they can act on your

behalf. If no arrangements are made for medical directives and you become incapacitated, the court may appoint a

guardian for you. Signing advanced medical directives doesn’t take away your right to decide on treatment, if you

are able to do so. Be sure to

discuss your wishes and beliefs concerning medical treatment with your doctor,

family and agent. You should make

copies of your advance directives for your doctor’s files, agent, family and, if

applicable, your health care facility.Discuss the policies of your health care provider

and be sure they are compatible with your own beliefs and that your wishes will be

honored. If you want an AMD,

contact your local legal assistance office.

Although military members and other persons eligible to receive legal assistance

are not required to use a particular state-specific form, you may use the

Partnership for Caring

site to obtain an AMD for a particular


An AMD can be destroyed any time you

change your mind. You can do this by telling someone, revoking it in writing, or by destroying

the document. Let your doctor, family and anyone who has a copy of it know that you’ve

destroyed it.

Advantages to having an AMD:

  • Difficult decisions about future care

    are made while you are competent, alert and not sick.

  • Your directions allow you to die under circumstances you

    have chosen. It makes your wishes clear in the event of a dispute as to what

    you might have wanted.

  • An AMD removes the burden of decisions having to be made

    by grieving loved ones when you are dying.

  • An AMD can reduce medical expenses.
  • An AMD states your desires regarding organ donation at

    your death.

Disadvantages to having an


  • An AMD is effective in a very narrow set of circumstances.
  • The decisions you made may be hard for your family and

    create disharmony.

  • A parent, adult child, spouse or agent under a power of

    attorney can challenge the validity of the AMD in court.

  • Acceptance out-of-state

    may be a problem.

Since it is impossible to predict

every possible contingency in an AMD, having both a Living Will and a Health Care Power of

Attorney enables you to handle other kinds of disability, or

gray-area cases where it’s not certain that you are terminally ill, or your

doctor or state law fail to give your wishes due




A Power

of Attorney (POA) is a written instrument that allows you (the “principal”) to

authorize your agent (your “attorney-in-fact”) to conduct certain business on

your behalf. It is one of the strongest legal documents that you can give to

another person. There are two types

of POA; “general” and “special” (or limited). A general POA gives your agent very

broad powers to act on your behalf; and a special POA limits your agent’s

authority to act only on certain matters. Every act performed by your agent within the authority of the POA is

legally binding upon you. Since a POA is such a powerful document, give it only

to a trustworthy person, and only when absolutely necessary. Your local legal

assistance office can advise you about, and prepare for you, the appropriate

type of POA needed for your situation. For example, a

soldier’s spouse may use the soldier’s power of attorney to–

  • Clear government quarters.
  • Ship the family car.
  • Cash the soldier’s paycheck.

You may hear that you need

a “general” power of attorney so that someone else can take care of all your

affairs if you are absent.  This is probably not true.  In fact, it is

highly unlikely that you will ever need a general power of attorney.





Now that you know about a

Power of Attorney (POA) and the usual types,

use the fillable

POA Application

before visiting your local legal assistance office to indicate

what power(s) to give your agent in your POA. You may find it

easy and convenient to fill it in and print it out, or you may print and hand-write your

information, before visiting your legal assistance office. Army

Legal Assistance staff will prepare a general or special POA based on your needs.

Available for Viewing and Downloading in Adobe

Acrobat PDF. Get Adobe Acrobat Reader.

  • If you want to revoke, cancel, or end a Power of Attorney before it

    expires, you must sign a Revocation of Power of Attorney. You must give a copy

    of the revocation to any person who might have or will possibly deal with your


  • No one is ever legally required to accept a power of attorney (even

    a military power of attorney), regardless of the legality or validity of the

    power of attorney.

  • In some cases, certain individuals and/or businesses will only

    accept a power of attorney fulfilling their specific individual standards and

    requirements, such as banks and other financial institutions. Many have their

    own form, so ask them. As a result, ensure this power of attorney will meet

    the specific standards of the individuals and/or businesses with which your

    agent will do business.

  • Your appointee or agent MUST have the ORIGINAL Power of Attorney;

    you should keep a copy for your




Each active duty service member is eligible to be insured under the Service Member’s

Group Life Insurance (SGLI) up to a maximum of $250,000 in increments of

$10,000. Before deploying, verify who is designated as beneficiary on your SGLI and make appropriate changes as

necessary. An eligible beneficiary can be any person or legal entity designated by the service member. More information about the

program can be found at the VA Web site, and the SGLV Form 8286A is also available on