Estate PlanningKerrie and Luanna, a lesbian couple from New England, had a civil union ceremony in 2014. When same-sex marriage was legalized nationally the next summer, they didn’t see much reason to legally marry. They had been together for nine years and had thrown a big reception for friends and family after their civil union. Eighteen months later, Luanna was badly injured in a motorcycle accident and eventually died from her injuries.

Through her grief, Kerrie watched Luanna’s estranged and disapproving parents insert themselves and claim all of Luanna’s personal property and assets. They were able to do this based on the state’s laws of succession, which determine how an estate is distributed when someone dies without a will.

Neglecting end-of-life planning can leave your loved ones vulnerable to heartbreaking and unexpected obstacles. For LGBTQ individuals, failing to plan is a high-stakes gamble. This discussion may help you assess your level of preparedness and the steps to take next.

Rights and Responsibilities

When the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, same-sex couples eagerly headed for the altar. A 2017 Gallup study revealed that over 60% of cohabitating same-sex couples – double the pre-ruling number – were choosing legal marriage. The remaining 40% were living in unmarried committed partnerships. If you are part of that unmarried 40%, end-of-life planning is particularly important. Married same-sex couples are protected by the rights afforded to all married people. Unmarried partners do not enjoy the same protections.

Unfortunate Consequences

If you die without a will or trust, you die intestate. This means your property will be distributed through your state’s laws of succession, even if the terms are not in accordance with your wishes. If you were married and died with no will, your surviving spouse has a much better chance of inheriting your property, depending on the laws in your state.

If you are not married and you die without a will, your partner will have no legal rights and will have to abide by state laws. This scenario almost never goes well and can be tragic for your grieving partner.

Plenty of cautionary tales exist about dying intestate. As with Kerrie and Luanna, your deceased partner’s relatives may be allowed to claim financial assets and treasured personal property that your partner would have wanted you to have.

Wills or Trusts

From online will-making templates to hourly estate attorneys, there is no shortage of estate-planning tools. Free online will programs, such as doyourownwill.com or freewill.com will allow you to download templates and complete simple wills and other end-of-life documents. If you are not married or you have a large extended family group with specific inheritance parameters, you may want to have your will reviewed by an attorney. Obtaining legal assistance now will likely prove invaluable to your family when you are gone. An attorney can also advise you if a trust is more appropriate than a will for your situation.

Trusts are often associated with wealthy families trying to protect their fortunes. That is one function, but trusts are unlimited in their ability to outline complex distribution needs. Trusts mostly function to protect someone from something or someone else. If you want to will something to your nephew but he’s an irresponsible 15-year-old, a trust can instruct that his inheritance held by the trust until he is older. Trusts have hundreds of functions that can protect both your surviving partner and others. They are best drafted by an attorney, so they can be costly. If your estate distribution is complex, or you want to protect anyone from anything, a trust may be the best option.

Every adult should create end-of-life documents. For same-sex couples, it is essential. You can make a simple will for free using online templates. Without a will, same-sex survivors can fast find themselves in a painful family war that may destroy longtime relationships. The best time to begin estate planning is before you think you need to.  

Category: Loss

legal finance

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