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  • Writer's pictureShannon Marino

Estate Planning FAQs For LGBTQ+ Couples

As we are about to wrap up another Pride Month, the LGBTQ+ community faces an increasingly uncertain legal landscape. In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, ending the recognition of a constitutional right to abortion, many are worried that other rights, especially those enjoyed by same-gender couples, might also be under threat.

In fact, with Roe overturned, legal experts warn that the Supreme Court’s new Republican majority may come for landmark LGBTQ-rights decisions next, including marriage equality established by Obergefell v. Hodges. In light of this potential challenge, it’s critical that same-gender couples ensure their estate plans are carefully reviewed and updated by an estate planning lawyer who understands the special needs of LGBTQ+ planning to address any such developments. Although we will have to wait and see whether the Supreme Court ultimately decides to rule on marriage equality, same gender couples can act right now to put in place a number of proactive estate planning measures to ensure their relationships have the maximum legal protections.

While you should meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to address your specific circumstances, here are answers to some frequently asked questions related to LGBTQ+ estate planning.

Q: My partner and I are in a registered domestic partnership in our state, but we are not married. Do we qualify for the same rights and benefits available to married couples?

A: No, domestic partnerships, civil unions, and other alternative legal relationships to marriage only offer rights and protections in the states that recognize them. Marriage is the only relationship that is recognized by the federal government.

Moreover, the rights and protections offered by domestic partnerships and civil unions can vary widely from state to state. In some states, for example, domestic partnerships and civil unions do not affect property rights between the two partners, while in other states they do.

If you want all of the rights and protections that come with having your relationship recognized by the federal government, marriage is your only option.

However, you can replicate almost all of the benefits of marriage through a comprehensive estate plan—what we call a Life & Legacy Plan—so give us a call and let’s discuss how we can support you in getting the right legal documents and plan in place for you and your partner.

Q: My partner and I have been living together for 10 years, but we are not married and have no desire to get married. I’ve created a will, but my partner has no estate plan at all. What would happen to me in the event my partner dies or becomes incapacitated? A: If you are unmarried and your partner dies without any estate plan, your partner’s assets will be distributed to his or her surviving family members according to our state’s intestate succession laws. Those laws only apply to relatives in the eyes of the law, so you would have no right to inherit any of your partner’s assets. If not remedied immediately, this could have catastrophic effects for you. For example, if your partner dies, and you are not named on the deed to a home you live in together, you could even be left homeless should the family member who inherits the house decide to kick you out.

Similarly, in the event of your partner’s incapacity, you would have no automatic right to make medical decisions on their behalf, nor would you be able to access any financial accounts that are solely in their name. Your partner’s family could even prevent you from visiting your partner in the hospital.

In light of these facts, if you are in an unmarried relationship and you want your partner to inherit any of your assets upon your death or have any say in how your healthcare and/or finances are managed in the event of your incapacity, it’s absolutely crucial that each of you create a Life & Legacy Plan that addresses both death and incapacity.

Q: What kind of estate planning tools typically make up an effective incapacity plan for LGBTQ+ or any unmarried couple? A: Estate planning isn’t just about planning for your eventual death; it’s also about planning for your potential incapacity due to serious injury or illness. Creating an effective incapacity plan allows you to name the person (or persons) you would want to make your healthcare, legal, and financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to make such decisions yourself.

If you haven’t planned for incapacity, the choice is left up to the court to appoint a legal guardian to make these decisions on your behalf. If you are unmarried and the court appoints one of your relatives as your guardian, your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process and even deny him or her the right to visit you in the hospital. Even if you are married, it’s not guaranteed that your spouse would have the ultimate legal authority to make such decisions.

Though the court typically gives spouses priority as guardians, this isn’t always the case, especially if unsupportive family members challenge the issue in court. To ensure your partner/spouse has the ability to make these decisions for you, you must grant him or her the legal authority to do so using medical power of attorney and durable financial power of attorney.

A medical power of attorney gives your partner/spouse the authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. Similarly, a durable financial power of attorney gives your partner/spouse the authority to manage your financial, legal, and business affairs, including paying your bills and taxes, running your business, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Additionally, you should also create a living will, so that your partner/spouse will know exactly how you want your medical care managed in the event of your incapacity, particularly at the end of life. Finally, don’t forget to provide your partner/spouse with HIPAA authorization within the medical power of attorney, so they