End of Life and Survivor Planning in the Military

Chelsy Meyer  | 

End of life planning is important for a variety of situations, and especially important for military members in the event that the worst happens. Fortunately, the military does a great job of taking care of their service members and their families. However, in the event that a service member passes away, there’s only so much they can do if the right paperwork and preparations aren’t taken care of. Making sure your survivor benefits are in order, you’ve planned out legal priorities, and that you’ve managed responsibilities ahead of time will ensure that surviving family members won’t have the added burden of maneuvering through confusing end of life plans.

Survivor Benefits

Survivor benefits are designed to support family members of deceased veterans. They can be confusing, and may vary depending on the service member’s military branch, active duty status, and many other variables. In order to make things easier, it’s best to keep one person in your family knowledgable about survivor benefits like monetary assistance, life insurance, and counselling and grief services.

Many benefits require a death certificate and paperwork to be filled out, so it may be helpful to keep a packet of information about which benefits your family should look into should something happen, as well as making sure your beneficiary information is always up to date.

  • Monetary Assistance: The military is great about offering monetary assistance in the form of survivor benefits for the surviving family of a deceased service member. Looking into required paperwork and keeping a detailed list of numbers and forms will be helpful information for your family to have easy access to.
  • Life Insurance: Adding a life insurance policy on yourself is another great way to ensure your family’s financial stability. Whether or not you’re deploying, having this extra financial backing just in case will always be helpful to your surviving family members.
  • Counseling and Grief: The military also offers counseling and grief services for your family members. Keep that information in the same packet outlining their survivor benefits so that your loved ones are able to get the help they need.

Advance Legal Planning

Monetary assistance and survivor benefits are amazing help for surviving families of fallen service members, but much of that help needs to coincide with legal planning. The default person for survivor benefits of service members would be their spouse. However, in order to have more control over your estate as well as your benefits, it’s best to get some legal planning in place. This will eliminate any issues with family members, you’ll ensure your wishes will be carried out, and no one will have to question what you would have wanted them to do in the event that you’re unable to make certain decisions.

  • Creating a Will: A will is an essential legal document for anybody taking steps for end of life planning, and especially for those in the military. Creating a will allows you to make the hard decisions for your family in addition to specifying whether you want military honors, cremation, and any other personal preferences.
  • Assigning a Power of Attorney: Assigning a power of attorney is especially important for military personnel deploying, but it’s also helpful to include in a will if something were to happen to you – whether that be death, or being incapacitated in other ways. This person can be a spouse, lawyer, or parent and will follow your wishes in terms of medical directives, estate planning, and carrying out the wishes outlined in your will. You’ll likely need to work with a military attorney; it is important that you document your preferences for the type and length of care you receive should you be rendered unable to communicate.
  • Knowing What you Need: Legal planning varies based on each person, so discussing your questions with your lawyer or a VA financial specialist may be the best decision so that you don’t miss any important paperwork. Your estate, marital status, dependents, and active duty status all come into play, and a professional will help you navigate this side of legal planning.

Stay focused on the big picture, it can be stressful and painful to envision possible scenarios and what-ifs; you and your family will be better served if you can make your wishes known in broad terms. Working with an attorney can help ensure you get the big stuff covered, so survivors are not overwhelmed with having to make impossible decisions on your behalf if the worst should happen

Managing Debts and Making Notifications

Getting benefits and legal documents in order are important for end of life planning for military members, and so is managing your responsibilities for your family. There are so many aspects of life that fall into the hands of family members in the event of a death, so managing those responsibilities beforehand will make handling those responsibilities a lot easier. Understanding your debt after death, managing your expenses, and making plans for your estate are all vital aspects to end of life planning for military service members.

  • Debt after death: A military career tends to do good things for saving money and improving credit, but you’ll still have your debt once you enlist. Generally speaking, much of your debt won’t be your family’s burden when you pass. However, co-signers or joint account holders may be responsible for certain kinds of debt. Monetary benefits may help with those costs, but it’s important to know which ones will roll over to family members. It will be important to note which accounts are individual and which are joint or co-signed; all debts and accounts will need to be notified
  • Managing Expenses and Responsibilities: Make a list of all of your expenses that will need to be taken care of in the event of your death. Things like car loans, student loans, credit cards, and utility bills will need to be notified in the event of your passing. Making a list of these and how they should be handled will help family manage them when you’re gone. You’ll also want to include planning for pets, older parents, and dependents in the event of your passing in your legal paperwork.  
  • Estate Planning: Military families tend to get better mortgage rates, but your mortgage and home equity loan will be the responsibility of the joint homeowner or whomever inherits the house. Making a plan for these things is imperative as, for many service members, their home is the biggest part of their estate. Other estate planning includes trusts, assets, other property, and bank accounts. Include estate planning in your legal documents and understand the cost or inheritance they come with.

End of life planning is a little different for military service members than it is for a civilian. Generally those that are not elderly, wealthy, or responsible for dependents don’t worry as much about end of life planning. For military service members, their benefits and dangerous careers put them in a position that makes end of life planning an important step. By understanding survivor benefits, making legal preparations, and managing responsibilities, service members can ensure their end of life plans meet their wishes and make life a little easier for their family.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated October 10, 2017. It was originally published September 24, 2017.