12 Situations Where You Can Get Free Legal Help

Service members reviewing documents

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

As a service member or eligible family member, you have access to free legal benefits. Through your legal assistance office, you can receive free legal services such as a lease agreement review, estate planning or advice if you get sued.

Get Free Legal Help

Specific legal services may vary by installation, but your legal assistance office can generally help with the following:

  1. Powers of attorney. A power of attorney allows one person to legally act on your behalf on legal and money matters. For example, a power of attorney document can appoint someone to release your household goods shipment if you’re leaving before your furniture will ship or bank on your behalf while you are deployed.
  2. Lease and rental contract reviews. A lawyer can review your lease or rental contract before you sign it to be sure the terms are acceptable, and that the agreement includes any military rental protection clauses for your state.
  3. Living will. With a living will, you can declare what medical treatment or life-sustaining measures you want or don’t want if you become seriously ill or injured.
  4. Estate planning. This is an important part of retirement planning and can include:
    • Drafting of a will, a legally binding document describing how you want your property and belongings distributed after your death
    • Designating your beneficiaries
    • Planning ahead should you become mentally or physically disabled
  5. Family care plan. This serves as a blueprint, for military purposes, for how you want your family cared for while you’re deployed. A plan is required for single parents, dual-military couples with children, or if you care for a disabled or elderly family member. Legal assistance offices can review and advise on this matter.
  6. Notary services. Notaries can administer oaths, witness signatures, take acknowledgments, sworn statements and affidavits, and more.
  7. Consumer issues. If you’re having credit problems, believe you’re the victim of a scam or have a dispute over a consumer issue, legal assistance attorneys may help you communicate and negotiate with collection agencies, lawyers or other parties.
  8. Tax assistance. Many legal assistance offices operate tax centers or provide income tax return preparation to help with filing federal, state or local taxes.
  9. Family law. Get legal advice for a range of issues, including adoption, child support, marriage, divorce, separation, child custody, alimony, property division, name changes, paternity or legal benefits under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.
  10. Service member rights and responsibilities. Legal assistance offices can help you understand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides specific protections for service members.
  11. Civil lawsuits. In limited cases, you can get help with the preparation of legal correspondence, documents and pleadings.
  12. Immigration and naturalization. You can get support and referrals for immigration, citizenship and naturalization matters, including alien registration, reentry permits, passports, naturalization of a surviving spouse and citizenship of military children born abroad.

Pay for Legal Advice on These Matters

The legal assistance office is restricted from providing help and advice in some circumstances, including the following:

  • Providing legal advice to third parties or opposing parties on the same issue
  • Claims against the government
  • Serious criminal matters
  • Citations for driving under the influence
  • Legal matters concerning your privately owned business
  • In-court representation

While Military OneSource does not offer legal assistance, you can call or visit your legal assistance office to find out more about the services offered at your installation.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Understanding the Probate Process, Survivor Benefits and Resources for Financial Planning

Intern fills out papers in legal office

Current as of May 15, 2020

While no actions can erase the pain you feel after losing a family member or loved one, getting your financial and legal affairs in order can be a small step in the right direction and can provide some peace of mind during this difficult time.

Here are a few essentials to consider as you address financial and legal affairs in the days following the death of a loved one.

Understanding the probate process

When your loved one dies, the probate process will begin in the county of their legal residence at the time of death. If your loved one had a will, the person they named as the executor will take charge of finalizing his or her affairs. If there isn’t a will, the court will appoint an administrator. With or without a will, the probate process can be divided into four steps. Here’s what you can expect to happen.

Step 1: the probate hearing

  • The judge formally appoints the executor or administrator to be the personal representative throughout the probate process.
  • The validity of the will is established and the court issues an order “admitting the will to probate,” which causes the will to become public record.
  • The personal representative is given a document, called the “letters of administration” or “letters testamentary,” that grants him or her the full authority to deal with the decedent’s probate property and accounts.

Step 2: collection and inventory of assets

The designated personal representative takes an inventory of the estate assets and files this inventory with the court. These assets may include money owed to the decedent or the estate, bank and stock brokerage accounts, and evaluations of real estate or property.

  • Money owed to the decedent or the estate includes loans, a final paycheck, life insurance payouts or retirement account(s).
  • Bank and stock brokerage accounts includes account numbers and latest balances.
  • Evaluations of real estate or property will probably require a professional appraisal.

Step 3: bills, taxes, expenses and creditors

  • Any final bills, debts, taxes or claims against the deceased are reviewed for their validity and then paid with funds from the estate. You are not personally responsible for paying these expenses out-of-pocket, even if estate funds are not available.
  • Once all debts and bills are paid, the personal representative files a report with the court to account for all income received and payments made on behalf of the estate.

Step 4: formal transfer of remaining estate property

  • The remainder of the property is distributed as the will directs or according to state law if there isn’t a will.
  • Depending on the state, there may be a state-required waiting period before property can be officially sold or transferred, which is usually six months.
  • Once all remaining estate property is transferred to heirs and beneficiaries, the personal representative completes a final settlement of the estate that details all dealings.
  • The judge then approves the final settlement and the personal representative’s duties are complete.

If you need more information on the probate process, contact your local legal assistance attorney. You can find legal assistance offices through the Armed Forces Legal Assistance website.

Make sure your wishes are properly carried out should the unthinkable happen by creating a last will and testament. Plan ahead with everything you need to know about estate planning.

Understanding benefits

The Department of Defense and other agencies are committed to doing everything possible to assist you as you deal with the financial details and decisions that surround the death of an active-duty service member. Every service member’s family may be eligible for certain benefits, such as:

Death gratuity: Death gratuity is a lump-sum payment made by the Department of Defense to the survivors or other individuals identified by the service member prior to his or her death while on active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty for training or within the 120 days of release from active duty if the death is due to a service-related disability. The amount of death gratuity is $100,000 and is tax exempt.

Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance, or SGLI: Upon the death of the service member, SGLI payment is made by the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance.

Survivor Benefit Plan, or SBP: Surviving spouses or children of service members who die in the line of active duty may be entitled to SBP payments. The automatic monthly SBP death benefit is provided at no cost, as service members do not pay into this benefit when on active duty.

Student eligibility for military SBP: The SBP’s child annuity payments typically end when recipients turn 18. You are eligible to continue receiving payments until the end of the school year during which you turn 22, as long as you remain unmarried and you attend one of the following full time:

  • High school
  • Accredited trade school
  • Accredited technical school
  • Accredited vocational institute
  • Accredited college or university

The certification process has gotten easier for students age 18 and older covered as a child annuitant under the military Survivor Benefit Plan.

The changes went into effect in May 2020, highlighted by the following:

  • A simpler certification form
  • A student’s ability to self-certify
  • An extension of the certification deadline to annually instead of each term/semester

SBP annuity payments for qualifying high school and college students are not affected by school closures in the wake of coronavirus disease 2019.

The DOD simplified the process of students becoming certified in other ways, including:

  • Students will now self-certify. So they will no longer need a school official’s signature or school documentation when they certify full-time attendance. With COVID-19 school closures, this truly simplifies the process.
  • Simpler Child Annuitant’s Certification for Previous Attendance Letter for certifying past attendance.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service details the new certification process on their website, including all the changes. Make sure to complete the updated Child Annuitant’s School Certification form.

The DOD is taking steps to make it easier to validate each student’s eligibility with an online option for uploading and submitting school certification forms. Use the AskDFAS online upload tool.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC: This compensation will probably be the most important part of an eligible survivor’s long-range financial planning. It is paid to eligible survivors of active-duty service members and survivors of those veterans who deaths are determined by the VA to be service-related.

Assistance from the Social Security Administration: Monthly Social Security payments are paid to a spouse or a divorced spouse with children of the deceased service member under the age of 16, or disabled before the age of 18. The amount paid will be determined by the Social Security Administration.

Using your online survivor benefits report to set financial goals

The online survivor benefits report (PDF), allows you to view current and estimated future benefits, and set up savings and spending plans so you can forecast your financial future. Some useful features include:

  • The “what ifs”: See how different scenarios, such as changes to marital, education and disability status, will impact your current and future benefits. For example, if a spouse remarries before age 55, the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity is suspended, but can be reinstated if the remarriage ends by death or divorce. If the surviving spouse remarries at age 55 or older, the annuity continues uninterrupted for the duration of the spouse’s life. Current and “what if” reports can be saved or printed.
  • Homeownership possibilities: Look at your current finances and your financial future and decide if, or when, you should buy a home. Surviving spouses who have not remarried may be eligible for a Department of Veterans Affairs home loan guaranty, which they can use to buy a home, build a home or refinance an existing loan. Additional information about the VA home loan program is available on the VA website.
  • Education benefits: Whether you’re thinking about your own education or your child’s, the interactive report can help you financially plan for obtaining higher education, certification, technical or vocational school, apprenticeships or other educational programs. As a surviving spouse, you may access education benefits from the VA up to 20 years after the death of your service member. Surviving military children can typically use their benefits between the ages of 18 and 26.
  • Retirement options: Your report will show you how much money you should be receiving now and project your future benefits. That can help you decide how much money to set aside now for your retirement years.

Start preparing for your future by accessing your online survivor benefits report, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To log in and view personal reports, select your loved one’s branch of service below and follow instructions on the site:

If you don’t already have a Premium DS Logon account you can create one on the DMDC’s website. Meanwhile, Military OneSource also offers financial counseling and can help you with financial- or benefits-related questions. Call 800-342-9647. OCONUS/Overseas? Click here for calling options.

Contact the family assistance support team at 877-827-2471, or by email at osbr@afsc.com, about any questions concerning your report. Recipients of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance are entitled to a lifetime of free financial advice from FinancialPoint, an independent company whose team of professionals are experts in handling a wide range of financial matters on behalf of the VA.

Long-term survivor care programs

The services’ long-term survivor care programs also provide free services with financial counselors, as well as Military OneSource:

Understanding a Military Power of Attorney: A Primer for Families

Someone writing a power of attorney

At some point in their military career, your service member may ask if you can help them with certain personal business that can be hard to handle if they have limited communications or access to technology. This may include a wide variety of transactions including paying bills, handling banking or insurance, or selling property.

To hand off these responsibilities they need to create and sign a power of attorney that designates you or someone they trust as their representative. A POA is a legally binding planning tool that gives one person the authority to act on another’s behalf for legal or financial issues for a specified time. Conversations with your service member can help you better meet his or her needs.

The military maintains legal services offices to prepare powers of attorney for service members, and may bring the legal services to the individual units before deployments or other operations. Even better: These services are free to your service member.

General, limited and specific powers of attorney

Powers of attorney may be general or written to address a specific transaction(s). Your service member will have to think through and determine the types of transactions they may need you, other family members or trusted people to complete. If they are unsure about their needs, an appointment with the legal services office can help them determine the right POA for their situation. This conversation or prompt can determine which types of powers of attorney are needed.

If you are someone’s POA, here’s what to know:

  • A general power of attorney gives the you the legal right to take any action on behalf of your service member, or grantor. While this can be easier, it also has drawbacks as some institutions may not accept a general POA, or at least beyond the most basic kinds of transactions.
  • A special power of attorney, or limited power of attorney, is specific to a certain transaction or business relationship. This may include powers of attorney for specific bank accounts, vehicles or actions such as the sale of a particular property. A special power of attorney should include detailed information. The downside to using special powers of attorney is that you need to have one for every business relationship being covered.

If you are being asked to be a POA then you will need to know detailed information such as the bank account name and number, Vehicle Identification Numbers, or insurance policy companies and numbers, whether or not they are added to a POA.

Regular, durable and springing powers of attorney

Another important aspect of a power of attorney is when they take effect and when they terminate. Here are common terms to know about POAs:

  • Regular: Most regular powers of attorney take effect when they are signed. A regular power of attorney lasts until it expires, until it is revoked, until the grantor becomes incapacitated or until either party dies.
  • Durable: A durable power of attorney also usually takes effect when signed and lasts until it expires, until it is revoked or until either party dies. However, a durable power of attorney contains special language that continues the representative’s powers even if the grantor is incapacitated.
  • Springing: A springing power of attorney does not become valid until a certain event occurs – a common use is for the power of attorney to become valid if the grantor is incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions. They may or may not have an expiration date.
  • Termination: A power of attorney is limited to a specific period of time or around a certain event, such as during the length of a deployment. The POA automatically expires when that time period or event has concluded.

Using the right POA forms

In many cases, the company or organization may require that you use their specific form, that you pre-file the power of attorney with them, or they may have other requirements. Your service member should check with their bank, insurance company or other institutions with whom they expect that you will be able to do business to find out their preferred format and policy for submitting the documents.

Being asked to serve as someone’s POA is an important responsibility. Make sure that you understand what you are being asked to do.

Your military member can contact a Military OneSource consultant or access the military’s free legal locator if they have other questions about when and how they can use powers of attorney to take care of their personal business when they are unavailable.

Recognizing the Importance of Special Education Law to Families

Smiling adult and child in school hallway

The course, “Special Education Law Online Boot Camp,” provided Service attorneys, paralegals and Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support providers with the basics of special education law. The five-day, joint-service legal training included lectures, small-group participation, mock meetings and direct collaboration between participants. It was designed by William & Mary Law School faculty through the Parents Engaged in Learning Equality initiative in cooperation with the Navy.

Attendees gained valuable knowledge on key elements of special education that included:

  • Eligibility

  • Individualized education programs

  • Manifestation determination reviews

  • Free and appropriate public education

  • Least restrictive environment placement. 

Military parents often have questions on these topics as they move from one installation to another. They find states and school districts frequently interpret these special education responsibilities differently. Parents with questions about their rights within special education should contact their installation EFMP Family Support staff or the installation legal office for assistance.

Learn more about legal services available to special needs military families, as well as other services offered by the Exceptional Family Member Program.

 

Recognizing the Importance of Special Education Law to Families

Service attorneys, paralegals and Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support Providers from around the world participated in a five-day, joint-service legal training on special education law.

Free Legal Support for Military Families With Special Needs

Man writing a document with a pen

As a military family with special needs, you may face unique financial, medical and legal challenges caused, in part, by the demands of military service. Fortunately, you do not need to address these burdens alone; free, military department-provided support services exist to help overcome these challenges.

One powerful resource is free legal advice and educational materials provided by installation legal offices. The hours and policies for legal assistance vary by service and installation so you should contact your local legal office in advance.

Upon establishing contact, you will be able to use attorney support to help you navigate the range of legal issues that affect some military families with special needs, in particular families whose children have special education needs. Legal support can include:

Preparing for Guardianship Fact Sheet

  • Educational law – for example, the federal rights to free, appropriate public education and free disability evaluation
  • Advanced estate planning – for example, special needs trusts
  • Guardianship proceedings
  • Permanent change of station and deployment issues.

Moreover, installation legal office personnel stand ready to provide educational materials to aid you in your self-help and planning efforts.

Installation legal offices can also refer your military family, based upon financial need, for more advanced and in-depth specialist assistance through the American Bar Association’s Military Pro Bono Project. You may be eligible for this service if your legal issues are determined to exceed available local resources. You can be matched with a specialist volunteer attorney associated with the ABA to provide further assistance on even the most complex special needs issues.

As a military family with special needs, you have access to free and reliable legal assistance. Installation legal offices and legal assistance providers stand ready to support you in addressing these legal matters.

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act

Couple discuss finances at a military tax center

Moving from place to place requires a lot of effort and changes. Two laws make it easier for military spouses regarding their residency, voting and state taxes.

In 2009, the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act was amended by the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act. It allows military spouses to maintain legal residence in the state where they lived before a permanent change of station move with their active-duty service member. A second amendment to the SCRA provides additional protections and benefits to military spouses. This is called the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018.

Maintaining your legal residence under MSRRA

Every person has a state of legal residence. For most civilians, their state of legal residence is the place where they live. But service members and their families move frequently. The SCRA allows active-duty military members to maintain their legal residence in the place they consider home.

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act allows military spouses to declare the same state of legal residency as their spouse. The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act allows that choice to be made regardless of when they were married. The following conditions must be met to qualify under the MSRRA:

  • The service member is stationed under military orders in a state that is not his/her resident state.
  • The spouse is in that state solely to live with the service member.
  • Both the service member and spouse have the same resident state.

When those conditions are met, the spouse’s income will be taxed only in the state of legal residency.

Using your spouse’s state of legal residence

Spouses may vote and pay taxes in their active-duty spouse’s state of legal residence, according to the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018.

Income covered by MSRRA

A military spouse’s income is subject to tax laws in the state of legal residence. Only an active-duty service member’s military income is covered under SCRA. Any other income is taxable by the state in which it is earned.

Military spouses and service members may be required to file and pay state income taxes on other income in the state where it is earned. This includes income from rental property.

Service members and spouses who own businesses should check with their legal and tax professionals. They can help determine if and how MSRRA and SCRA apply to their specific situations.

What MSRRA does not do

MSRRA does not permit military spouses to maintain a legal residence in a state different than their active-duty service members. State laws, however, may be more generous than the federal MSRRA.

Military spouses must fulfill their state’s residency requirements. That almost always includes having a physical presence in that state.

Sometimes a military spouse will live in a different state than the active-duty service member. In these cases, the MSRRA generally does not apply.

Access free legal assistance on your installation or call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. You may also connect via Live Chat 24/7/365. Military OneSource can help with other questions about MSRRA, SCRA, or other residence, tax or voting issues. CONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Power of Attorney Basics

Doctor signs patient chart

A power of attorney is a written document that gives one person the authority to act on another’s behalf for any legal or economic issues for a specified time. You can tailor your powers of attorney for any situation, choosing between a general power of attorney or a special power of attorney, and whether the power of attorney is durable or not. If you’re married, both you and your spouse should designate a power of attorney prior to your deployment; assistance is available at most installation legal assistance offices.

  • General power of attorney — A general power of attorney gives the person you designate the power to perform almost any legal act on your behalf for a specified time. This can include managing bank accounts; selling, exchanging, buying or investing any assets or property; purchasing and maintaining insurance; and entering into any binding contracts. Because the authority granted is broad, give this type of power of attorney only if a special power of attorney won’t suffice and if the person you choose is trustworthy and financially responsible.
  • Special or limited power of attorney — A special or limited power of attorney gives specific powers to the designated person for a specified time. When drafting a special power of attorney, you’re required to list the particular decisions over which the designee has power.
  • Durable power of attorney — A durable power of attorney remains valid even if you become incapacitated or unable to handle your own affairs. If you don’t specify a durable power of attorney, it’ll automatically end if you’re incapacitated in the future. A general or special power of attorney can be durable with appropriate language. This eliminates the need for a court to choose a guardian and conservator to make decisions on your behalf during your incapacity.

Benefits of a power of attorney for your spouse

Providing a power of attorney to your spouse, parent or trusted friend can help ensure he or she can address whatever needs to be done on your behalf while you’re away:

  • Access family finances — By providing your spouse a power of attorney, you can ensure access to your bank accounts and financial information.
  • Pay taxes and receive tax refunds — Even if you deploy, you have to file a federal and state income tax return, unless you get an extension. The Internal Revenue Service generally requires your and your spouse’s signatures to file income tax returns and to access refunds. For your spouse to be able to file a joint income tax return during your deployment without a power of attorney, you will need to complete IRS Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representation.”
  • Receive emergency financial assistance — Each of the service branches offers emergency financial assistance through their respective relief organizations.
  • Receive government housing — If your family is on the waiting list for government housing when you deploy, you should notify the installation housing office before your deployment. If you give your spouse power of attorney — and give a copy to the installation housing office — before your deployment, your spouse and children may be able to accept and move into government housing.
  • Enroll newborn children in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS — TRICARE Prime automatically covers your newborn baby for 120 days. To continue coverage after 120 days, enroll him or her through the installation ID card center. Your spouse must have either a general or a special power of attorney.

Terminating powers of attorney

You can revoke a power of attorney at any time as long as you’re mentally competent. When drafting the original document, you may consider limiting its length, so it automatically revokes upon your return from deployment. To revoke a power of attorney before its expiration, you can consult a legal assistance attorney to execute a revocation.

Know the Laws That Protect Your Child with Special Needs

Young adult quizzes a student with flash cards

You want to be an effective advocate for your child with special needs. The first step is to understand the laws that are in place to protect children with special needs. Federal laws regulate special education services and make sure schools provide accommodations for children with disabilities. Almost all states now have anti-bullying laws on the books, as well. By understanding these laws and your child’s rights, you’ll know better how to defend him or her against unfair or discriminatory treatment.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Enacted in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all qualifying children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. The law outlines the special education benefit, including individualized special education services. States have different procedures for implementing the law, but they all must be consistent with the IDEA. In accordance with the six basic principles outlined in Part B of the IDEA, schools must:

  • Provide free and appropriate public education. Schools are required to provide an education at public expense, under public supervision and direction.
  • Conduct an evaluation. Schools must gather the information necessary to help determine the child’s educational needs and guide decision making about appropriate educational programming.
  • Produce an individualized education program. To ensure that the child’s individual needs are met, schools must create a written statement of the educational program designed for the child.
  • Provide the least restrictive environment. Children with a disability are entitled by law to receive an appropriate education designed to meet their special needs. They must be separated from their nondisabled peers only when the nature of the disability is such that they cannot achieve in a general education classroom, even with supplementary aids and supports.
  • Offer opportunities for meaningful participation. Schools must provide opportunities for parents and students, when appropriate, to get involved throughout the special education process.
  • Implement procedural safeguards. Procedural safeguards ensure that the child’s and his or her parents’ rights are protected and establish clear steps to address disputes. Procedural safeguards guarantee that parents can participate in meetings, examine all educational records and obtain an individual educational evaluation.

The IDEA’s Part B also establishes the educational requirements for children with a disability from ages 3 to 21. To further explore how this legislation helps to safeguard your child’s rights, visit the IDEA website, which covers such topics as discipline, early intervening services, identification of specific learning disabilities, individualized education programs and much more.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Title II of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance. Title II requires that qualified individuals with disabilities, including students, parents, and other program participants, are not excluded from or denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or otherwise subjected to discrimination by a public entity, by reason of a disability.”

At the Department of Justice’s ADA website, you’ll find the full text of the ADA and additional information about the act, including lists of questions and answers about child care centers and the ADA and the Amendments Act of 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies may all be recipients of these funds.

Section 504 helps children with disabilities to access school services by requiring schools to provide accommodations and modifications. But, unlike IDEA, it does not provide for an individualized education program. Even if a child does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA, he or she may be allowed special accommodations with this law. For example, a child who must use a wheelchair, but does not require special education services, would be protected by Section 504.

The regulations implementing Section 504 in the context of educational institutions appear at 34 C.F.R. Part 104. This comprehensive list of more than 40 common questions and answers about Section 504 and the education of children with disabilities further explain how this legislation protects your child’s rights.

Anti-bullying laws

The federal government’s anti-bullying website defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Making threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, and deliberately excluding another person from a group all constitute bullying. In recent years, bullying has become the subject of increased media attention, particularly as technology and social media websites have given rise to “cyberbullying,” occasionally with tragic consequences.

As of April 2012, every state in the nation, with the exception of Montana, had passed anti-bullying legislation. Using an interactive map at the StopBullying website, you can research your own state’s laws and policies and find out more about the 11 key components of state anti-bullying legislation, including specification of prohibited conduct, development and implementation of local education agency policies, and training and preventive education.

The website also includes guidance prepared especially for kids, including “Facts about Bullying,” “What You Can Do,” and more than a dozen “webisodes” (cartoons that portray bullying situations and show kids how to address bullying) with accompanying quizzes.

School policies

Your school may have a policy related to discrimination, harassment or bullying. Familiarize yourself with your school’s policy by reading the parent handbook or policy manual. If you can’t find any information in the parent handbook, ask your school for a copy of its policy.

For more detailed information on the range of laws protecting children with disabilities, you may be interested in the Department Of Justice’s Guide to Disability Rights Laws.

What to do when you have concerns about school implementation

The Resolving Concerns With a Child’s Special Education Services fact sheet outlines the steps parents and guardians can take if they disagree with their children’s school on any issue involving the special education program.

Military OneSource special needs consultants can answer your questions and concerns about the care and education of your child or adult family member with special needs. Call us at 800-342-9647.

Legal and Financial Considerations for Lesbian and Gay Service Members

Military servicewomen spend time together before their wedding ceremony

Great strides have been made on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The following information will help you understand benefits and protections for lesbian and gay service members.

Federal legislation

The federal government is currently working to ensure federal benefits for legally married, same-sex couples are implemented. Here is a guide to what is currently in place:

  • Spouse and family benefits for service members and their same-sex married partners — The Department of Defense extends benefits, such as healthcare and basic allowance for housing, to all married service members, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Taxpayer benefits—For current information and guidance on Internal Revenue Service regulations, visit the Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Same-Sex Couples web page.
  • Social Security benefits — The Social Security Administration processes spousal and survivor benefits for same-sex married couples.
  • Immigration — The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reviews immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse. 
  • Family support program — Defense Department leaders extended access to family support programs and other resources to same-sex couples.

State legislation

While the Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, those states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriages may take some time to implement the new ruling. Here are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Taxes— Contact a tax professional to find out if you and your partner may file a joint tax return.
  • Property ownership—If you own property, you will want to familiarize yourself with joint property ownership rules in your state and how it applies to inheritance and property division in a divorce.
  • Parental and adoption rights— In many states, both same-sex partners are not automatically considered legal parents when the couple has a child or adopts.
  • Inheritance rights—Depending on state laws, same-sex couples may not have the same rights of survivorship protection. Without a will, your property may be distributed according to your state’s rules.
  • Medical decision-making privileges— Medical personnel often look to immediate family members while an unmarried partner has no rights to make medical decisions.
  • Housing rights— In states that don’t explicitly prohibit it, same-sex couples may face housing discrimination. 

Protect the financial future of yourself and your family

Here are some ways all couples can protect themselves and their families:

  • Know your state and local laws — You will generally have more protections if you are legally married.
  • Begin financial planning—A visit to your installation’s personal financial management office is a great place to start.
  • Create powers of attorney for both partners— A general power of attorney authorizes a person to act on your behalf for most things, while a special power of attorney authorizes your designee to act in your behalf in a specific situation, such as registering a car or getting medical care for your children.
  • Draft a will— A will is a legally binding document that describes how you want your property distributed after your death. It may also include other matters, such as the appointment of your child’s guardian.
  • Create a living will— A living will, or advance medical directive, allows you to describe medical treatments you want in case of injury or illness and to identify another person who should make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own.
  • Title your property jointly— When either partner buys personal property or real estate, you may want to be sure it is titled jointly with rights of survivorship, so the surviving partner receives full ownership.
  • Draft a parenting agreement— For parents who cannot legally share custody of their children, this document helps identify parental rights and responsibilities when it comes to parenting.