Be Prepared!

(Survivors Assistance)

All of us who served with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company have been living on borrowed time for forty-plus years.  But along with taxes, all of us will eventually be heading off to that final LZ in the sky.

At the 2011 187th AHC LZ-Gulf Shores Reunion, Helen Henry, widow of Joe Henry, spoke at length about the importance of preparing for the inevitable.  Joe & Helen Henry

Joe was president of the 187th AHC Association when he died of a heart attack in October of 2009 less than a month before the LZ Washington reunion.  While his passing was sudden, he and Helen were prepared for it. 

“Joe Henry smoked and joked, but he was very organized,” said Helen.  Joe had given a great deal of thought to his eventual passing and he and Helen had talked about it.  She strongly suggests that everyone do the same. 

“This may be tough to talk about, but you need to do it,” she said.  Here are some of her insights.

Death Certificates

When someone dies, the coroner will want to know the decedent’s health history.  If he or she dies in a hospital or a hospice, and is under a doctor’s care, that’s where the coroner will go for information.   In the case of military veterans, it is critical that the coroner learn about any military-related disability.
Like everyone else who served in the 187th AHC, or anyone who served in Vietnam, the Veterans Administration acknowledges that Joe Henry had been exposed to Agent Orange.  The VA recognizes Agent Orange as an underlying cause of diabetes, neuropathy and ischemic heart disease among other things.  So on Joe Henry’s death certificate, exposure to Agent Orange was listed as an underlying cause of death.

“For me, this made a difference of $12,000 a year, tax free, in survivors benefits,” said Helen.  While Joe Henry had a good handle on the VA, not everyone finds dealing with that government agency an easy thing.

“Remember, the VA is not your friend,” added Carolyn “Skoonie  Pike, a former military nurse and widow of Joe Pike who served in the 187th AHC.    “You need a survivor assistance officer to help you.” 

It is important that a spouse and other family members know where to locate key documents like birth certificates, DD 214’s, citizenship papers, insurance and financial information.  And don’t forget a list of passwords associated with your computer.

Before a death certificate is issued, someone must provide (and document) the full name of the deceased, his or her father and mother’s full name, the date and place of birth and their social security number.

It will take a week or more before a death certificate is issued and you will need half a dozen or more copies of this document. Life insurance companies and most banks require “verified” or “certified” copies and not simply copies run off a copy machine. 

Wills, and Other Preparations

Everyone should have a will, and they should review and/or update it from time to time.  Wills can be quite simple and there are do-it-yourself forms commercially available, including on the Internet.  But paying a modest fee to an estate attorney might someday better ensure that your wishes are clear to your family and to a probate judge.

If married couples have joint bank accounts and valuable assets such as homes and automobiles listed in both of their names, these assets can avoid probate.  You can also have an attorney draw up a revocable living trust and place your assets in the trust.  This will also bypass probate.

Probate is a legal process of administering an estate.  The court rules on the validity of a will, on how to distribute the deceased’s assets and pays claims made on the estate.  Probate takes time, and you generally need to hire an attorney to help you through the process.  So if you have prepared, your survivors can avoid much of pain of probate.

Another Kind of Will

A living will, also known as an advanced directive, can spare your family another kind of serious pain.  This is a legal document in which a person makes known his or her wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatments.  Not only should you have a living will, but you should talk to your family, especially your spouse, about how you feel regarding such issues. 

The more specific you are, the better.  Do you want to be maintained on a respirator?  How about a feeding tube?  Do you want the medics to attempt to perform CPR if your heart stops beating or if you stop breathing?  Do you want to be given cancer chemotherapy if you are also suffering from an advanced form of dementia?  It is much easier for your family to make such decisions if you have filled out an advance directive and talked to them about it. 

Closely related to a living will, is a healthcare power of attorney.  This document allows someone you trust – a spouse or other family member - to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for yourself.

A standard power of attorney is also something you can prepare in advance so that your spouse or another family member can handle financial issues should you be incapacitated.

The Funeral

“Joe made detailed plans for a funeral,” said Helen.  “You might have to make some adjustments because the funeral and burial is for the living too.  Joe wanted to be cremated but his kids clearly wanted some place they could visit so some of his ashes were buried.”

Helen recommended that children be part of funeral considerations and that they may need some special attention and explanations.

“They’ve been told that heaven is this wonderful place and then all of a sudden someone goes to heaven and everyone around them is so sad.”

Retired military personnel who die may be eligible for burial in a national cemetery, a plaque, a foot stone, a flag or an honor guard.  Help your family by letting them know in advance so they don’t have to determine this themselves.

There are some practical considerations about funerals you need to know: 

Funeral homes generally want to be paid right away.  Funeral costs, burial, cremation, etc can vary widely, so it pays to shop around.  You can spare your family this burden by making your own arrangements in advance.  Or when someone is terminally ill, it is worth beginning to make arrangements before death occurs.

Funeral homes will want the deceased’s Social Security number so they can notify Social Security.  Social Security will immediately cease payments.  They will, in fact, want payment for the month the person died to be returned.  And if payments were being made electronically to a bank account, they will take that payment back.

In fact, any payments your spouse receives, i.e. VA benefits, military retirement income, etc. will be reversed at the time of their death so be prepared and know that these monies will be taken out of your account.  Eventually some of this will be awarded to you but it can take months.  This is why an emergency fund, one to three months minimum income, is vital.  If you don’t have one, start accumulating one right away.

None of us is in a rush to take that final check ride, but you can’t avoid it.  However, you can make it easier on those you leave behind.


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