Legal assistance: Ensuring your important documents are prepared

September is Coast Guard Personal Readiness Month in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, National Recovery Month, and National Preparedness Month. All Hands will share important information through this series on how you can remain physically and emotionally ready, as well as ensuring your homes, property, and legal documents are ready as well.


Readiness is a constant duty for all of us. We relentlessly train, study and prepare for the challenges, real or envisioned, that we are likely to face in our chosen fields. Unfortunately, the same rigor is often not applied to our personal matters. Preparing to sail or fly into a hurricane is vastly different than preparing for that hurricane to hit your home.

Coast Guard legal assistance attorneys provide advice and counsel regarding personal legal issues to thousands of service members, dependents and retirees each year at no cost.  These issues may involve family law, estate planning, consumer law, landlord-tenant relations, immigration or many other topics.

Here are just some of the questions to ask yourself to make sure that you have important documents ready for anything that comes your way:

  • Do you have questions about your rights and responsibilities related to your rented or purchased housing?
  • Do you have an estate plan directing the disposition of your property and, if you have children, naming a guardian for them?
  • Do you have a Medical Directive explaining your wishes in the event you are in a persistent vegetative state?
  • Do you have questions about your or your spouse’s legal residency?
  • Have you viewed your credit report in the last 2 years? (you are entitled to a free report from each credit service once per year)


This checklist is designed to provide a quick assessment of your legal readiness. In most circumstances it only takes a few minutes to complete. If you checked any of the shaded boxes, you should consider contacting a legal assistance attorney, who can help you resolve legal issues at no cost.

If you are interested in providing your family with a more specific and detailed framework for your legal, financial and other important records, you should complete a Personal Readiness Plan (PRP).

The PRP is offered to provide you and your family a framework to organize and store your personal information and paperwork. It is private, so it need not be shared with your command or anyone else outside of your family or trusted friends. Ideally, the plan will be useful in your daily living and indispensable in an emergency.

The PRP is divided into ten sections to include everything from debt to investments to vehicle titles. Some topics, such as wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives, will require consultation with an attorney to produce the documents. The other areas, particularly ones such as credit reports, taxes and benefits, may generate legal questions. Coast Guard legal assistance attorneys are available to provide guidance and answer those questions. Click here to find the attorney most convenient to you.

Many people will not need to use every line of the PRP. You may choose not to draft a complete inventory of your personal items. Similarly, you can skip Section 7 if you do not own a vehicle. After you have completed your plan and your circumstances change, updating your PRP to reflect new circumstances should be fairly simple.

Coast Guard readiness is often framed in terms of unit, mission or even agency readiness. All of those are built on a foundation of personal, and by extension family, readiness. If you are distracted by your personal circumstances, you are not completely focused on mission execution. The PRP is a tool to help you ensure your focus is where it belongs, and Coast Guard legal assistance will be there to help!


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