“What is SOES, and why do I keep getting emails saying I need to certify?” Since August 2017, we have been hearing this more and more in the 374th AW Legal Office. We want to make sure that all members of the Yokota community know the services that are available to them. In Ask A JAG, we answer Yokota’s burning legal questions in a straightforward, legalese-free newsletter. In today’s edition, we tackle online enrollment and certification of SGLI.
What is SOES?
Most people know what SGLI, or Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, is: a low-cost life-insurance policy available for service-members and their families. What many people are not familiar with is SOES: the SGLI Online Enrollment System.
SOES allows service-members with full-time SGLI coverage to change their coverage and beneficiary information online, at any time, without the need for paperwork or a trip to the personnel office. Previously, service-members needed to fill out Form SGLV 8286 to change any SGLI elections, whether it be to reduce the $400,000 automatic coverage they receive or change beneficiaries following the birth of a new baby. In August of 2017, however, the Air Force began roll-out of SOES to allow Total Force Airmen to change and validate their coverage and add beneficiary information online.
To set up SOES, the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) uploaded 2.3 million SGLI records to MilConnect so that service members would have access to their records online. The Air Force then began notifying Total Force Airmen of the availability of the new system and the requirement to review and validate the information that was uploaded into the system. Eventually, paper changes to SGLI will not be available to service members, leaving SOES as the only option to modify SGLI coverage.
Notification of the SOES roll-out is sent to Airmen based on their birth month – but implementation of the system is effective now and scheduled to conclude in June 2018. Even if their birth-month hasn’t rolled around yet, service-members can use SOES to manage the amount of their coverage, name and update beneficiaries, and certify their SGLI records. Though the roll-out is more than half-way finished, Air Force certification is only at a 57% completion rate.
Why do I need to certify?
Not reviewing and certifying your SGLI has serious consequences. If you do not review the online record and validate your initial elections from the original data uploaded onto SOES, the record is not authoritative on your choices. In other words, if the worst were to occur, your elected coverage and beneficiaries in SOES can’t be relied on.
More importantly, there will be mistakes in any system overhaul. Millions of records were uploaded from the DMDC files in order to get SOES up and running. Several service members we have spoken to have noticed that although their elected coverage was entered into the system properly, their beneficiaries did not upload at all. Though FSS will then rely on the information you previously elected through paper, it won’t be the first place that they look.
Many people believe that their life insurance will pay out according to their will, frequently through a trust, regardless of what they enter into SOES. Using trusts as the beneficiary for your SGLI help create added layers of protection to prevent unwanted individuals from obtaining money that belongs to your loved ones. However, your will and your SGLI elections are legally entirely separate. SGLI will only go to those people, trusts, or estates that you expressly name as beneficiaries under SOES – there is no “default” will option. While you can name a trust or estate as a beneficiary under SOES, a trust must be created first before it can be named as a beneficiary under SOES. Prior to naming a trust or estate as a beneficiary, you want to seek help from a military attorney. If you don’t set the trust up properly (or worse, don’t set the trust up at all), then you risk your money going somewhere you don’t want it to.
There are some legal ramifications on the SOES update. While SOES currently does allows service-members to elect a “legal entity” (legalese for a trust) as your SGLI beneficiary, it does not allow the service-member to add language that describes that trust in detail. Under normal circumstances, we at the Legal Office would typically advise service-members to include language on their SOES form that notes exactly which trust you want the SGLI to go to, for example: “Trust established in my will, dated 27 April 2018, whose Trustee is Jane Doe.” SOES only allows service-members 100 characters for the trust’s name and federal tax ID. While DOD is fixing this feature, if you need to make changes or want to create a trust to send your SGLI to, you may still use the SGLV 8286.
Ultimately, certification of your SGLI selections gives you peace of mind knowing that your family will be taken care of should something happen to you. No one wants the added stress of confusion regarding who receives a life insurance payment following the death of a family member.
How do I certify?
There are 5 easy steps to certify your SGLI on SOES:
1) Sign into: www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect with your CAC or DoD Self-Service Login.
2) Click on the “Benefits” tab.
3) Click on “Life Insurance (SOES – SGLI Online Enrollment System)”
4) Click “Continue” on the Notice and Consent Page
5) Follow the instructions on the Welcome to SOES page and “User Guide” located on the right hand column of the page.
Where Can I Learn More About SOES?
You can learn more about SOES and SGLI on either the MilConnect website listed above or the following U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs site: https://www.benefits.va.gov/insurance/SOES.asp. There is also a web-based self-service training available at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/insurance/training/SOES/SOES.htm.
You also have the right to speak with an attorney at no expense if you have additional questions regarding SGLI. To make an appointment at the 374 AW Legal Office, call DSN 225-8069 or COMM 042-552-2511 ext. 5-8069.
-Capt. Alexandra K. Fleszar, 374th Airlift Wing Legal Office