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Mar 19

Protecting Young Love and Honoring Wishes

Watkins Family 300x300 Protecting Young Love and Honoring Wishes

Photo of Gerrick and Shardeh Watkins from Shardeh’s Facebook Page

A couple weeks ago, I read an article about another Marine Corps family, Gerrick and Shardeh Watkins, who died in a fiery crash on the freeway, just a few miles from my house. What really gets me, is that it could have been any one of us.

The couple was young, married in 2011, and happened to be coming back from spending a day at the beach with their dogs, something many of us in southern California do on a regular basis.

A family member is quoted, saying “The only thing that comforts us is that they all went quickly and they all went together,” Matthew Norris said of his step-daughter, her husband, Marine combat veteran Gerrick Watkins, and the couple’s two dogs Layla and Scout.”

I can’t stop thinking about this couple, not just because of their loss, but because my heart is crushed that they’re not being buried together. “Shardeh and the two dogs, Layla and Scout, will be buried in her home state of Maryland. Gerrick will be laid to rest in his home state of Texas”, says the article.

Now, I don’t know the Watkins family, but I’m fairly certain that most married couples would not want to be buried thousands of miles apart, and I’d be surprised if this was what they wanted. Quite possibly I’m wrong, but this isn’t so much about them, as it is about you.  I’m asking you to think about what you’d want your future to look like.

Young love is amazing and powerful, but sometimes our families just don’t get it, or respect it. I remember back to when I first met my Marine. I was 19, he was 22. For years, his mom had a very difficult time treating us as our own family unit, partially I think, because we didn’t have kids. We are living on our own, living thousands of miles away from our friends and family. All we had were each other.

I know that in times of stress, beyond life and death situations, extended family members choose to do what is comfortable and easy for them, not taking into account the needs or wants of a young couple.

The lesson learned for me, and hopefully all of you, is to write down what you’d like to see happen in your futures:

  • What is going to happen if you and/or your spouse become incapacitated?
  • Who will become the guardians of your children in the event that both parents pass away?
  • Where would you like to be buried and how?
  • Is your SGLI (life insurance) updated and accurate? I’ve heard stories where ex-wives were still listed as the primary recipient, or estranged family members receive a lump sum, instead of their children.

Visit RPAC on base to update your Record of Emergency Data (RED) and get your SGLI updated. Draft up a document for a will and  get it notarized for a quick stand-in. It won’t be official, but it will be a start. The next stop is Base Legal, where they offer help with making free wills, advance directives and more. This is a free resource for you, take advantage of this program and make sure your wishes are honored in the end.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the family and friends who knew Gerrick and Shardeh Watkins. May they rest in peace.

7 comments

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  1. Rob

    This is a very sad story, and you are right that it is a learning opportunity for all your readers.

    EVERY adult needs to have a will. Most of your Marines will have a unit leader checking to make sure they have wills before deploying, but nothing is 100%. Take care of yourself by making sure it is done.

    ‘Every adult’ means every spouse needs to get a will too. Base legal can do that for you for free as well. A will covers the final wishes of one adult — trying to do a ‘joint’ will is generally not advised.

    And ‘every adult’ means regardless of your net worth. Without a will it is virtually guaranteed that your family will incur extra expenses, bureaucracy, and hassle at a time when they really don’t need it, regardless of how much or how little money you have in the bank.

    You can write your own will with a book checked out of the library, but this is not ideal. In most states as long as two other disinterested (unrelated) people witness you signing it, then it will be official. You might not be able to get it notarized without a lawyer though — NFCU, for example, won’t notarize a will due to ‘potential legal ramifications.’ Without the notary your witnesses may have to appear in court to testify that your will is legitimate.

    The next most important document you need is a durable power of attorney, again for each adult. This POA only goes into effect if you are seriously incapacitated. It allows a person you name to act on your behalf when you can’t do that for yourself.

    The 2 other important documents are the health care power of attorney, which allows your appointee to make health care decisions for you; and the advance medical directive, which most people think of as ‘instructions on when to pull the plug.’

    So those are 4 documents that you (and your spouse) should have to avoid making a tragic accident like this even worse for your families. You can have them done at base legal for free for service members and family members. For ‘significant others’ not covered by base legal your best bet is to find a lawyer, or perhaps use a service like LegalZoom if your situation is not too complicated.

    Any life insurance you have, such as SGLI, is unaffected by your will. It is a contract with the insurance company, and as such it requires the benefit be paid to the person(s) they have on record, without regard to your will. The same goes for a retirement account like an IRA or 401k; be sure your beneficiary list is correct.

    The RED needs to be up to date for a number of reasons, and the one that seems to be the issue here is the PADD: Person Authorized to Direct Disposition. When it comes to how the service member’s remains are handled, the government is required to follow the direction of the person listed as the PADD, but that does not apply to the family member. It is a good idea to think though a situation like the Watkins family when you name the PADD, and have an honest discussion with your spouse’s family about it too.

  2. Justina Marie Finn-Zimmermann

    Sad but true. As much as this seems like it doesn’t matter, in the end it really does.

  3. Megan

    I knew Shardeh Personally. I went to school with her since we were in 7th grade! One of the first things that came to my head was, are they going to be buried together. I dont know why they werent, I think that would have been what they wanted. Like other people have said to me, maybe one of their families already had a burial plot! No matter what the reason was, im sure the family members that made that decision made that decision for good reason. They lived in California, Shardeh was from Maryland and Gerrick was from Texas. Im sure it was an extremely hard decision to make considering their home towns were so far apart. Over Christmas was Gerricks 1st time visiting Maryland. He learned how to eat crabs and got to see the capitol of the untied states. the fact that they werent burried together breaks my heart for Gerrick, Shardeh, Laila and Scout but just remember, there is probably good reason behind it. No one expects such young beautiful people to be taken from us in such a tragic way. I never met Gerrick and although I talked with Shardeh often over the internet I hadnt seen her in years. They had the most one of a kind amazing love story I had ever witnessed. It was beautiful. They are together and will be for an eternity. I wish they had their own family plot but we may never know y. Its definately not a question you ask the family. Hope you can find some way to understand with my information.

    1. kristine

      Absolutely Megan. There are always circumstances beyond what we all understand and I hope I made that clear. My intent was to pose this question to all of the readers and make it about them… we all need to take responsibility for our futures and that includes decisions after we have passed. Thank you for sharing your memories of Shardeh and Gerrick with all of us.

      1. Megan

        Kristine is there a way I can contact you directly. I Have a question. I totally understand where your coming from, your totally right. Im a single mom and need to make a will just incase.

        1. kristine

          You can message me directly at USMC Life’s Facebook Page. http://www.facebook.com/usmc.life

  4. amanda watkins

    Now let me say that this article has weight heavy on my heart not because it has any real significant on our life or because our family would have any reason to explain why we made the decision that we made. We are a very private family that had experienced our share of tragedies. They were not buried together because both families wanted them home. Gerrick was a texan through and through. He was buried as a hero like he deserved. Shardeh was buried in maryland because thats what her family wanted. At the end of the day they are together regardless. I knew gerrick better then anyone and he is where he wanted to be and so is shardeh. We arent given a guarantee of tomorrow and they always lived for today. Also the dogs were there children and they could not be buried in the national cemetery with gerrick so they are with shardeh. This is what they would have wanted.

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