Legal Matters: Steps to Take Before Deployment

Your to-do list before a deployment may be long, but it’s worth taking the time to go over legal matters with your loved ones. Use the information below to get familiar with key legal items to take care of before deployment.

1. Designate a Power of Attorney

What it is: A power of attorney names one or more people (technically called “attorneys in fact”) who have the authority to act on your behalf for any legal or financial issues while you’re deployed. These issues might include banking transactions, selling or buying property and every day medical decisions. There are several types of power of attorney:

  • A general power of attorney gives a person the power to perform almost any legal act on your behalf for a specified period of time, including the ability to manage bank accounts or purchase and maintain insurance.
  • A specific power of attorney allows you to list the particular actions and decisions over which a person has power of attorney for a specified period of time.
  • A durable power of attorney remains valid even if you become incapacitated or are unable to handle your own affairs. When drafting your general power of attorney, if you do not specify that you want it to be durable, it will automatically end if you become incapacitated in the future.

How to get this done:

  • Choose the best person(s) to act on your behalf for any legal or financial issues that arise. This should be someone you trust, like your spouse/partner, your parents or a close friend.
  • Determine which type(s) of power of attorney you need.
  • Consult a legal assistance or civilian attorney to draft or update the required power(s) of attorney. Not sure who to turn to for legal assistance? You can get free legal help from a legal assistance office. To find the nearest office, use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance’s Legal Services Locator.
  • Work with the individual you designated as your power of attorney to determine where the power(s) of attorney documentation will be kept.

Tips:

  • Set up your power of attorney for the duration of your deployment plus an additional three months in case your deployment is extended.
  • Walk through important paperwork, like your leave and earnings statement, insurance documentation, bank account information, etc. with you’re the person(s) you chose so they are prepared to make these decisions should the need arise.

2. Create a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament:

What it is:

  • A living will, also called an advance directive, details which medical treatments you do or do not want if you’re unable to make decisions due to a serious injury or illness.
  • A last will and testament, known more commonly as a will, is a document that makes sure that you decide what happens to your children, property and belongings in the event of your death. A court may intervene if you do not have this document.

How to get this done:

  • Contact your local legal assistance office to set up time with a licensed attorney. To find the nearest office, visit the Armed Forces Legal Services Locator. Drafting a will may seem overwhelming or complicated, but there are people who can help.
  • Work with the legal assistance office to create an advanced directive and a will. Here are some examples of the decisions you’ll need to make:
    • Advanced directive: Determine which medical treatments you do and do not want in case of a serious illness or injury. This might include guidance on resuscitation, mechanical ventilation and organ donation.
    • Last will and testament: This may sound grim, but now is the time to make challenging decisions regarding funeral wishes, preferred burial location, property distribution, and child guardians. Things you may want to address include:
      • Name of executor (i.e. the person who will make sure that what you say in your will is carried out)
      • Names of spouse,partner, children and other beneficiaries
      • Name of guardian for children
      • Your assets
      • Specific gifts (i.e. vehicles, jewelry)
      • Trust information
      • Debts
  • Discuss with a designated person, such as your spouse, partner or parent, to express your wishes, identify where this document is kept and how they can access it.

Tips:

  • Even if you already have a will, consider meeting with an attorney before your deployment to review and make to make any updates.
  • Ensure your address is consistent across all legal documents

3. Understand Your Protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides financial and legal protection for active-duty service members and their families, including those in the National Guard and reserves. Here are some of the legal protections to take into consideration as you prepare for deployment:

  • Postponed civil court matters: If you cannot participate in a civil court action or administrative proceeding because of your military service, you can request a 90-day delay, or stay, in the proceeding. Proceedings may include actions for divorce, child paternity and support cases and foreclosure proceedings. This protection does not apply to any criminal court or criminal administrative proceedings.
  • Eviction prevention: You and your family cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent without a court order, regardless of the language of your rental agreement or local laws. This protection applies to residences where the monthly rent is below a certain amount. Contact your nearest legal assistance office for additional details.
  • Termination of residential lease agreements: If you entered into a lease and then received orders to deploy for over 90 days, you may terminate your residential lease by delivering a written notice of termination. This protection also applies to agricultural, professional and business leases.
  • Termination of automobile leases: You may terminate the lease for your car if you signed a lease agreement before getting your orders to deploy.
  • Voting rights in your home state: Your residency for state, federal or local voting purposes is unaffected by your absence from the state due to deployment. Similar protections exist for spouses.

Want to know more about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act? Click here.