While the right for LGBTQ couples to marry is relatively new, it is important not to delay in preparing a sound estate plan. This is a gentle reminder that estate planning for all couples is important to ensure that your financial, medical and end-of-life care decisions are in trusted hands and carried out according to your wishes.
Estate planning is not only for married couples. If you are in a long-term relationship, LGBTQ or not, estate planning is still essential to protecting your choices and your assets. In addition, each state handles domestic partnerships and civil unions differently when it comes to legal matters, which we discuss more thoroughly in a previous post.
Here are the four essential documents every couple should have in an estate plan:
- Will: A Will identifies how your assets should be distributed after your death and who will provide for minor children or any other family/friends, such as adults with special needs or minor children. While a deceased spouse’s assets will usually be transferred to the surviving spouse when there isn’t a Will, this arrangement doesn’t address specific property you would like to leave to certain beneficiaries. Without a Will, your partner and family may end up arguing over the disbursement of your property.
- Trust: You may consider placing assets in a trust, which can be revocable or irrevocable. Your assets in trust would be managed by a trustee who will ensure that your assets are handled in accordance with the provisions of the trust. There are many different types of trusts that can be created to achieve different types of goals, such as managing assets for minors or those with special needs.
- Durable Power of Attorney: This document identifies someone to act on your behalf to manage and make decisions about everything from bank accounts to real estate or legal matters. As the principal, you use the durable power of attorney to appoint an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act in your place. Should you or your partner become incapacitated without executing a power of attorney, a guardian may have to be appointed.
- Advance Health Care Directive: This document, also sometimes referred to as a Living Will, is like a power of attorney in that you appoint an agent to make decisions about your health care. This is an important role should you not be able to communicate that information for yourself. This ensures your wishes regarding end-of-life care, organ donation and release of medical records is communicated to health care professionals.
Estate planning for LGBTQ couples may have challenges beyond those faced by other couples. From family acceptance issues to adoption to gender identification changes, all of these have the potential to cause delay and burden if not addressed with documentation and planning.