Deployment orders raise many personal and practical concerns. One of the most common is a desire to get things in order -- and the need to do so quickly. You want to protect and care for your home and loved ones, even while away.
To help you achieve these goals, here is a checklist of important things to do before you leave.
Powers of attorney. It's a good idea to name someone to handle your bills while you're deployed or, if you are the sole parent for minor children, name someone as a temporary guardian. Power of attorney documents can be written to grant specific powers to someone you trust (your "agent"). These powers may include paying household bills, accessing your safe deposit box, filing tax returns, renewing car registration, and providing care for minor children (even enrolling children in school and authorizing emergency medical care).
In a power of attorney document, you can specify how long the agent's power will last -- for example, one year, renewed as necessary with a field JAG (Judge Advocate General).
Will. If you own significant property, are married, or have minor children, you should prepare a will. In your will, you can name beneficiaries for your property and, if applicable, name a guardian for your children. Preparing a will doesn't have to be complicated; for information on simple wills, see The Simple Will: No Frills, No Fuss, No Anxiety.
Help with legal documents. You can make your own will and basic power of attorney documents using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker Plus . If you have questions or need more help with these legal documents, contact the JAG office at your installation.
Auto insurance. Contact your car insurance agent to discuss the best coverage for your vehicle while you're deployed. If your car will be garaged, your agent may be able to provide a rate reduction during that period.
Life insurance. Review your life insurance to make sure that the amount is adequate and that the beneficiaries still reflect your wishes. To make changes to your Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, complete the SGLI Election Form (Form SGLV 8286) available through the Department of Veterans Affairs at http://insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/forms/forms.htm.
Family medical insurance. If you have dependents, ensure that their medical coverage is in place and will continue throughout your deployment. Visit TRICARE on the web at www.tricare.osd.mil to verify coverage.
At the same time, make sure that your spouse and children have current DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System) cards, so that they can receive medical care and make use of other benefits, such as access to the base and exchanges. To confirm DEERS enrollment, call the Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office (DSO), 800-538-9552, or update your information online at www.tricare.osd.mil/deers.
Lower interest rates. Many credit card and mortgage companies offer reduced interest rates during deployment. Be sure to call your lender to ask whether this benefit is available to you.
Routine expenses. The easiest, most effective way to ensure that your everyday expenses are covered is to name someone you trust as your agent under a power of attorney for finances, discussed above. Even if you're married, your spouse can more easily manage your accounts and affairs with a power of attorney in hand.
Make important records available to the person who will manage your finances. Include payment information for:
Also provide information about the financial accounts your agent should use to pay bills. Describe any access steps (including passwords) or payment arrangements (such as automatic bill-pay) that your agent needs to know.
Direct deposit. You may want to set up direct deposit so that your pay is automatically credited to your checking or savings accounts. Contact your bank or credit union to make the necessary arrangements.
Tax returns. If you will be deployed when your income tax return is due, grant your agent (under a power of attorney) the authority to file your tax return for you. Also, be sure to tell your agent the location of your tax records, both those for the current year, as well as last year's completed return.
You may want to file for an extension for filing your federal return. However, if you are serving in a combat zone on the filing deadline, you are automatically granted a filing extension of at least 180 days.
While most states honor an automatic federal extension, some may require a separate extension request. Contact your JAG office for assistance.
Retirement accounts. If you have retirement accounts (such as an IRA, 401(k), or another employer-sponsored retirement or pension plan), review your beneficiary designations to ensure they reflect your wishes. To make changes, contact the administrator of the plan.
Help with organizing your records. To help you keep track of this and other important information, turn to Nolo's Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen with Shae Irving. This book with CD-ROM provides a complete system for easily organizing your legal and financial information for your agent and other loved ones who will handle your affairs in your absence.