By Mariah L. Heppe
Traditionally, when one thinks about Durable Powers of Attorney, incapacitation is at the forefront of the discussion. However, for our military service members, whether Active Duty, National Guard, Reserve, Retired or our Veterans, a Military Durable Power of Attorney is essential to streamlining issues while the service member is physically not present to carry out his or her needs. In a sense, having a Military Power of Attorney is similar to having a Special Limited Power of Attorney, which civilians use to buy a car or to execute a deed.
For Active Duty service members in particular, deployments, TDYs (temporary duty assignments) and field training exercises can present unique challenges. When service members are away from home and a “military” issue comes up, military installations and government departments often require a Military Power of Attorney in order to carry out a service member’s wishes. For example, something as seemingly simple as a spouse needing to replace a Military ID card requires specific language that is found within a Military Power of Attorney. Without it, the spouse is out of luck, which is frustrating, especially if their service member is across the world.
It begs the question as to why a typical General Durable Power of Attorney is not sufficient? In my experience as a military spouse, who has been stationed at five different Army posts, including one overseas, the Army wants the specific language found in Military Powers of Attorney to ensure that the service member is getting extra protection, as the benefits and privileges that a named agent can access are significant. With a Dependent Military ID card, I have access to free medical care, dental insurance, commissary and PX privileges, access to post and its many amenities, including child-care. To protect the integrity of the privileges that flow from that ID card, the Army requires that the service member be present when the card is issued or re-issued, or that the spouse have a Military Power of Attorney that grants access to the privilege. In the military community, it is an accepted and expected practice to have a copy of the military spouse’s orders and a Military Power of Attorney at the ready. Armed with those two documents, a spouse is self-sufficient and successful.
In the event that a service member is not married or has retired, it is still a good idea to have a Military Power of Attorney, as government entities will accept it readily, and last-minute scrambling will be avoided, which will reduce overall stress. To ensure that a service member covers all of his or her bases, we recommend a Military Power of Attorney in addition to a traditional Durable Power of Attorney; when used in conjunction, these documents will ensure peace of mind that no matter the distance or circumstance.
A Military Power of Attorney may be prepared by any civilian attorney, or for the active duty service member, by their JAG office (for no fee). We recommend, at the minimum, that military service members also execute a Will, Health Care Proxy, Living Will and HIPAA Release to ensure that their basic estate planning needs are met. Please note, that more advanced estate planning may be necessary, but the abovementioned basic plan is a great place from which to start.