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NEWS | Aug. 13, 2014

Legally prepared for the unexpected

By by Senior Airman Connor Estes 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A bewildered family member comes in for legal assistance. Their loved one died without a will, but nobody knows who's in charge of sorting the estate and family members are simply claiming items. Meanwhile, bills are going unpaid, automatic withdrawals are still active and overdraft fees are gouging the bank account , which no one has access to. To make matters worse, an estranged spouse who hasn't spoken to the deceased in 13 years wants rights to the estate.

According to U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Brinton, 633rd Air Base Wing Legal Office assistant staff judge advocate, the story above is what the Langley Air Force Base Legal Office has dealt with. Although tragic, the scenario could have been avoided if the individual had their legal affairs in order.

"Unfortunately, without a will, the [family members] will have to get a lawyer and work it out in probate court. There's no telling how long that might take," said Brinton. "Having a will can help alleviate a lot confusion in an already stressful situation for Service member's family."

Most Service members rigorously prepare, train and even simulate deployments and military exercises. Unfortunately, the same preparation and importance is not always applied to personal legal matters.

Those who may think legal preparedness isn't as important as the training they endure should ask themselves the following questions:

- If you were to deploy right now or die, how long would it take people to find your important documents?

- Who would make medical decisions for you if you're unable?

- Who will take care of your bills, and will they need a power of attorney? 

- Who will take care of your children if you die?

If you don't know the answers to these questions, you may not be legally prepared.

"One way to be legally prepared is having a will on file," said Tech. Sgt. Samantha Paris-Harvey, 633rd ABW legal office paralegal.

A last will and testament names a personal representative to arrange your affairs, manage trusts, and establishes guardians for minor children.

"If you have a will, you have a plan," said Paris-Harvey. "When a family tragedy strikes, the last thing you want is a fight over medical care, or what should happen with property. Legal preparation gives you and your family peace of mind. If they have your documents, they won't have to go to court to fight for rights."

In other words, legal readiness can mitigate difficult decisions that can lead to stress for family members.

"The sad truth is accidents claim the lives of several young, healthy Airmen and Soldiers on this base every year," said Brinton. "Service members need to always be legally prepared for the unexpected."

According to the legal office staff, while it's almost impossible to predict when a person might need a will or healthcare document, when one is needed and there isn't one, it's usually too late.

"Being legally prepared does not mean you are expecting something bad is going to happen," said Brinton. "It just means you're mature enough to acknowledge unfortunate things may happen and make a plan for it."

Paris-Harvey said their offices at Langley and Fort Eustis benefit military members and their families; they can prepare wills, powers of attorney and healthcare directives for free, potentially saving Service members hundreds of dollars.

To expedite the process of making a will, follow a few simple steps:

- Visit

- Click "Legal Worksheets"

- Fill out the questionnaire, then save ticket number

- Call the Langley legal office at 764-3277 and make an appointment

If using the Langley legal office procedures the documents will be waiting upon arrival, meet with a lawyer for final review and walk out with a completed will in about an hour or less.

To make an appointment at the Fort Eustis legal office, call 878-5288.