Estate planning is important for everyone, no matter their age, marital status, or occupation. However, for military veterans, establishing the baseline of an estate plan may be a matter of practical necessity.

The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. has spent decades helping California servicemen and women keep their families safe from uncertainty. If you need help making an estate plan or revising an existing one, our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Estate planning for veterans | California Estate Planning Lawyer

Understanding the Importance of an Estate Plan

Far too many Americans make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is a task best saved for retirement. While working professionals and young parents might delay creating their plans, veterans must often take a more proactive approach to ensure their estate’s safety.

How an Ensure the Safety of Your Estate

When you create an estate plan, you help ensure that your money, assets, and wishes are protected because:

  • You have the freedom to choose your own heirs and beneficiaries.
  • You retain the right to make informed decisions about your medical care.
  • Your children have a guardian in the event that you or your spouse die unexpectedly or are otherwise incapacitated.

Without an estate plan, your family may be left to the mercy of a California probate court. This is because, under Golden State law, any person who dies without a will is said to have died “intestate.” Intestate successions are administered in accordance with a stringent set of laws, which provide the courts with little leeway and limited discretion.

Even when probate courts do everything in their power to ensure that a fallen hero’s family is provided the support they deserve, judges often find their hands tied by procedure. 

Estate Planning Concerns for Military Veterans

For many veterans, writing a last will and testament is often their first step in estate planning. However, while a will is a critical component of almost every estate plan, it does little to ensure that heirs are protected from the rigors of probate and shielded from the ever-present possibility of a bad-faith creditor contest. Your estate plan, no matter its size or complexity, should account for the following:

Your Last Wishes

A last will and testament presents opportunities beyond naming heirs and listing beneficiaries. You could use a will to:

  • Name an executor 
  • Nominate a guardian for your children
  • Inventory your assets

California presumes that every adult of sound mind has the mental capacity to write a will and make other critical estate planning decisions. However, your will is only valid if it is written and executed in accordance with Golden State law.

In the event that your will is found invalid, it will not be admitted to probate, and your family will be forced to contend with intestate succession.

Your Health Care Needs

Estate planning gives you the chance to determine what medical care you should and should not receive in the event that you are ever critically injured, institutionalized, or otherwise incapacitated. 

Your Financial Rights

The durable power of attorney protects you in the event that you are ever involved in a serious accident or suffer from age-related cognitive decline.

Your Family’s Stability

A revocable living trust could help you preserve your family’s privacy and its stability.

Unlike assets listed on your will, any properties or funds transferred to the care of a revocable living trust are typically exempted from probate—meaning that inheritances can be disbursed without court oversight, minimizing the potential for unfair challenges and bad-faith contests.

Furthermore, trust-based gifts can be conditioned, ensuring that heirs use their inheritances according to the wishes of the testator. For example, you may leave your child a generous amount of cash, but you know that they don’t manage money well. You may state that the cash be distributed to your child on a monthly or quarterly basis, or you may designate this money to be used only for college or purchasing a home.

Your Veterans Benefits

Many veterans are entitled to service-related benefits that can be transferred to heirs upon the veteran’s death. Veterans pensions, for instance, can provide surviving spouses and children with tax-free payments up to a certain limit. 

However, some benefits could become collateral damage in the event that an heir is ever divorced or forced to declare bankruptcy.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.