Alternative families have a greater need to plan than any other. The laws have not caught up with lifestyles and family-styles.
Jointly owned property goes to the survivor – so if you own real estate – this can be an area easily addressed.
Other assets take planning. It is important to look at your investments. Do you have them payable on death to your partner? Do you have a will or a trust that leaves them to your significant other? If not, then it is possible that your biological family will take these assets upon your death – even if you did not intend that to happen.
Retirement benefits are another area that are important to examine. Some cannot be “fixed” even with estate planning. Social security benefits are only available to surviving spouses. Many pension plans will only permit distribution to surviving spouses as well. Check your plans!
Other retirement benefits such as 401K’s, IRA’s, Roth’s and Annuities can be left to surviving partners. Take the time to check your beneficiary designations to assure that they are up to date.
Powers of Attorney are a very important tool for the same sex life partner. Without these in place, your significant disability could result in a request to the Probate Court for a Guardianship or Conservatorship. It is likely that the Court would honor such a request by your biological family. Is that your desire?
Who would you want to handle your financial and legal affairs in the event of your disability? If it is your partner, make sure that you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place that names him or her. That will assure that affairs will be handled in the manner that you chose in the case of your disability.
Who would you want to have access to you and your medical information in the event that you were critically ill and unable to communicate? Who would you want to direct your medical care? Without a Patient Advocate Designation (also known as Patient Directive or Durable Power for Health Care) your partner may be shut out of the process once you are hospitalized.
Each of these is a small but critically important issue to attend to if you want to protect yourself in the event of a disability or your partner in the event of your death.Linda E. Wasielewski is a solo practice lawyer located in Traverse City focusing upon Estate Planning and Probate Law, providing legal services in Northern Michigan
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