501 CSW Legal Office ensures legal readiness for deployers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

The 501st Combat Support Wing legal office gathered a group of 423rd Security Forces Squadron defenders into the courtroom to provide a will ceremony and the first group deployment brief of its kind in four years June 2, 2020, at RAF Alconbury, England.

While still adhering to COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines, the 501st CSW Judge Advocate staff hosted the event to ensure soon to be deployed Airmen were legally prepared.

“This is something that everybody in the military has to do and it’s called legal readiness,” said Master Sgt. Miriam Pantoja, 501st CSW JA NCOIC of general law, who led the group deployment brief. “You have to have all your legal affairs in order before leaving for your deployment location, even if you’re going [close by]. You don’t know what could happen to you.”

This briefing included information on the Prohibited Activities for U.S. Department of Defense Personnel, the Status of Forces Agreement, the Law of Armed Conflict, unlawful weapons, self-defense rules, rules of engagement, use of force rules, Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Haley Hopkins, 501st CSW JA host nation liaison, drafted the wills for the deployment line. She is a trained attorney, performing duties of a paralegal. Legal host nation liaisons carry out the function of foreign criminal jurisdiction, U.K. legal liaison support and U.K. legal assistance. Drafting a will can take anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes, requiring careful attention to detail and a basic understanding of estate law.

“It is common to have a few changes on each will, but for this deployment line and will execution ceremony there were no changes needed,” said Master Sgt. John Boyett Jr., 501 CSW JA superintendent, RAF Alconbury and RAF Croughton senior paralegal. “This is due to the professionalism of Ms. Hopkins and her expertise in estate law.”

After the brief, Capt. Lauren McCormick, 501st CSW JA chief of operations and civil law, provided legal services such as powers of attorney, wills, living wills and health care POAs. Wills were prepared ahead of time.

“With COVID we’re running limited services, so we figured the best way to ensure the larger group of deployers were able to get everything completed in a timely manner was to do a mass will signing,” said McCormick. “This is the best way to do it, and it’s the most efficient way for your family to be able to handle it in the event that something happens to you. Your will is to list out beneficiaries for all of your assets; and a living will is what dictates how you want healthcare to be provided.”

Boyett is the senior non-commissioned officer support to all other legal personnel that fall under the 501st.

“This is the first time we have done a deployment brief/line in this format in the past four years,” said Boyett. “The will execution ceremony is the most rigid and time-consuming legal assistance service we provide Airmen. If it is done incorrectly then the Airmen’s will could be ruled by a judge during the probate process, invalid. For a will execution ceremony to meet formal requirements it must include, signature, attestation, and writing requirements.”

Two Airmen volunteered to assist with the will ceremony.

“A lot of coordination and thought went in how to do a deployment line for Security Forces and how to do it safely,” said Boyett. “One thing we came up with was to ask for volunteers to assist with the will executions. This way if anyone going through the deployment was found to have transmitted COVID-19, then the entire legal office would not have to be quarantined.”

According to Boyett, the Legal Office can provide an array of services, including:

(1) Wills, testamentary trusts, and estate planning.

(2) Domestic relations, including divorce, legal separation, annulment, custody, and paternity.

(3) Adoption and name changes.

(4) Immigration and naturalization.

(5) Nonsupport and indebtedness including, communication, correspondence and negotiations with another party or lawyer.

(6) Taxes, including basic advice and assistance on Federal, State, and local taxes.

(7) Landlord-tenant relations, including review of personal leases and communication and correspondence.

(8) Civil suits, including preparation of correspondence and certain documents. However, advice and document preparation will not be provided in cases where civilian counsel has been retained. In-court representation is precluded except through the expanded legal assistance program, the availability of which varies among the services.

At this time the legal office is only providing will services for deploying members and those needing an emergency will. Those interested in requesting a legal service should send an email to the legal office’s org box (501CSWJA@US.AF.MIL) specifying the legal service they would like to request. The legal office will respond within one business day, and then set up an appointment.