It has been a little over seven (7) years since Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. This historic Supreme Court decision opened the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples all across the country, including easing the process of estate planning. Today, married same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples’ estate planning is largely the same as estate planning for any other married couple. However, LGBTQ+ couples are less likely to get legally married and they may have children where only one or none of the partners is the child’s biological parent. This can complicate the estate planning process and is why estate planning is even more important for LGBTQ+ couples.
With the overturn of Roe v. Wade, there has been increased discussion about the future of other privacy rights, including same-sex marriage. In his sole concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas indicated that the Supreme Court should reconsider previous rulings regarding privacy rights, including those that established the right to contraception, same-sex marriage, and protections for same-sex relationships. While no one wants to think of what would happen if they passed away, it is necessary to make sure your possessions get passed along the way you prefer, and not caught in the convoluted purgatory of probate. Read more about estate planning steps you should consider, particularly in light of recent political developments.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Careful and well-thought-out estate planning is essential for anyone who wants to protect their assets and loved ones regardless of sexual orientation; however, experts agree that it is likely more critical for same-sex couples and families due to marriage equality laws. While there is no need to draft estate planning differently from heterosexual spouses, same-sex couples need to make an effort to check the estate planning documents they already have to make sure they have language consistent with current laws, and, if couples do not already have one, to begin developing an estate plan. A typical estate plan may include:
- A Last Will and Testament – the primary document regulating your wishes as regards inheritance and guardianship of persons (such as minor children) and property;
- A Trust – protects assets for the benefit of yourself and/or specific persons;
- A Living Will (also called a Designation of Health Care Surrogate) – specifies your intent in regard to decisions on your physical well-being and end-of-life arrangements;
- A HIPAA Release and Authorization – allows person(s) designated by you to receive your confidential health information;
- A Durable Power of Attorney – enables a trusted Agent to make financial and/or medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated; and
If you die without a will or trust, state laws of intestate succession will determine who inherits from you, potentially leaving your partner of many years with nothing. This can be particularly important if you are estranged from your family or expect any family conflict over the assets you will leave. In Florida, Florida Statute Sections 732.101-109 explains that when someone passes away without a will, or trust, all assets go to their closest relatives. The first to inherit is the surviving spouse; however, there must be a valid, legal marriage to be a surviving spouse. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ couples, as the recent U.S. Census Bureau Data reports that about 42% of couples in the nearly 1 million same-sex households in the United States were unmarried partners. Without sufficient estate planning in place, an unmarried partner is likely to be overlooked in asset distribution. Taking control of your estate and the division of your assets through estate planning means that you can protect yourself and your assets and provide for your loved ones by your own intentions, and not that of the state. Estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of relationship or family status. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, it is even more important to treat these matters formally, without relying on default rules of state law.
Even if you already have an estate plan, it is imperative that you revisit that plan in order to ensure that it remains relevant under your current family and financial circumstances. If your estate planning documents were created before same-sex marriage was legalized across the country and you have since married, it is important for all of your documents to have consistent language that reflects that. The Human Rights Campaign offers a comprehensive step-by-step guide on estate planning for LGBTQ+ couples and their families for free that explains this importance.
Extra Assistance with a Special Deal
We recognize the sense of urgency that many couples are facing in light of the Supreme Court decision and hope to alleviate some of this burden by offering a special deal to LGBTQ+ couples in their estate planning matters. We are currently offering FREE health care estate planning documents including Combination Living Wills and HIPAA Release and Authorizations as well as Durable Power of Attorneys to LGBT+ couples in order to help you and your family plan for the future. Call 407-512-4394 to discuss scheduling a consultation with an estate planning attorney to take advantage of this opportunity for the months of August and September.
This article is not a substitute for consulting with an estate planning lawyer at our firm who is well-versed in the issues facing LGBTQ+ individuals, couples, and families. Thorough and proper estate planning is vital to ensuring that your wishes are carried out during your lifetime, and that your assets are passed along to your loved ones in the manner you desire after your death, which can potentially be more complex for the LGBTQ+ community. Our experienced estate planning attorneys understand the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals of all marital statuses face. If you have questions about anything discussed here or involving estate planning, feel free to give us a call at 407-512-4394. We bring experience and sensitivity when assisting members of the LGBTQ+ community in planning for asset protection, incapacity, and end-of-life issues.