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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Some people believe estate planning is reserved for the rich or retired, but they couldn’t be more wrong, a financial adviser and a legal specialist said.

“Having a good estate plan can save your family from having to spend lots of money in taxes and legal fees,” said Michael Chindamo, a certified financial planner with Family Financial Advocates Inc., a financial planning firm in Winter Park, Fla.

“If you don’t have a plan, then the government decides where your property goes,” Chindamo said.

The purpose of estate planning is to spare your family any extra grief and expense when your time comes, Chindamo said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

And the key to successful estate planning, he said, is having goals.

“Those goals can be minimizing tax, avoiding probate, retaining control over property, protecting assets and protecting against incapacity,” Chindamo wrote.

The good news for servicemembers is they can get the ball rolling, for free, simply by making an appointment at a base legal services office.

According to Lt. Patrick Lahiff at Yokosuka’s Legal Services, servicemembers should consider having three things: a will, a durable power of attorney and an advance medical directive.

“A will can be used to state if you want specific people to receive certain things,” Lahiff said.

A durable power of attorney “authorizes a designated person to make legal decisions if you are no longer able to do so for you,” he said, adding that an advance medical directive will serve as a “declaration of your wishes if you end up in a persistent vegetative state.”

An additional consideration for married couples who do their estate planning together is whether to create a bypass trust.

“By using a bypass trust to leave property to one another, they can guarantee that the property will only be taxed once between the two of them,” Lahiff said.

But, Lahiff warned, a bypass trust must follow certain rules laid out by the Internal Revenue Service, so make sure it is drafted by an attorney who is knowledgeable about federal tax law.

For answers to questions about estate planning, stop by your base legal office.


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