Uniformed service member completes a legal doc

Life Happens: Legal Assistance and Paperwork for Service Members and Families

You know the drill: paperwork comes with the military. It also comes into play for legal protections — in your professional and personal life. Hassles can arise when something happens and you don’t have your paperwork in order.

At other times in life, you may need more than guidance on legal paperwork. You may need a military lawyer for advice or representation. Military OneSource can help connect you to the legal assistance you require. Call 800-342-9647.

Organize Your Life: Legal Paperwork Helps Prevent Mishaps

There are some legal documents every service member — and citizen — should have:

Last will and testament. A will lets you decide what happens to your family, property and belongings when you pass. Otherwise, the courts will decide for you, and likely impose a fee for doing so. If you have a will, consider updating it based on your family’s current needs. When writing a will, you may want to consider planning for what happens to your property – real estate, investments, social security, cash, life insurance and business interests – after your death. This is called estate planning.

Power of attorney. This document lets you name a trusted person who can act on your behalf on legal or money matters while you’re deployed or otherwise unable to. The document allows this person to bank, buy or sell property and make other transactions for you.

Living will. With a living will, you can declare ahead of time which medical treatment you want—or don’t want—if you suffer a serious injury or illness and can’t speak for yourself. It also lets you select someone to make such decisions when you can’t.

When Life Gets Messy: Know Your Legal Options

Sometimes things happen in life and you need legal help. You can contact your legal assistance office for more information on many issues, including the following.

Divorce. Normally, divorce is governed by state and local laws and procedures. But being in the military can present some additional legal issues. These can range from affecting military benefits like housing to supporting family members upon separation. Understand your rights and obligations.

Child custody and adoption. Legal assistance can be helpful in several situations involving children. Examples: Preparing a family care plan can help provide direction to the person caring for your children when you deploy. If you adopt a child in another country, be aware of the follow-on adoption legal process when you return stateside.

Other legal matters. There are a range of other issues — from reporting crimes to alcohol and drug offenses — where you’ll need legal assistance or representation. Use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Locator to find the nearest legal assistance office.

You can seek assistance from military defense counsel if you're facing administrative discharge or criminal prosecution by the military. Military defense counsel are certified judge advocates who provide independent legal representation and confidential legal advice for service members suspected of an offense or facing adverse administrative actions.