Same-Sex Legal Kit For Dummies
Because the federal and most state governments don't recognize legal same-sex relationships, gay and lesbian partners face unique legal and financial challenges when it comes to doing things that most people take for granted— for example, getting married, buying a home, or adopting a child. By contrast, most LGBT partners (and even sometimes single folks) are required to draw up legal documents, such as advance directives, powers of attorney, living-together agreements, wills, and trusts, just to ensure their rights are protected and their wishes carried out.
The Importance of Advance Directives for LBGT Folks
The term advance directives describes certain legal documents that let you state in writing — before you become injured or ill — your wishes as to who you want to make medical and financial decision for you and what medical treatment (if any) you want performed when you're unable to speak for yourself.
Advance directives documents are particularly important for same-sex partners and even single LGBT people because hospital policy and the law often give preference to your legal relatives over your partner and other members of your family of choice. With advance directives, you can give your loved ones the power and authority they need to make decisions for you and to be at your side during your time of need.
Whether you're single or in a relationship, it's essential for your healthcare providers and your loved ones to understand your wishes regarding what medical treatment, if any, you desire in a variety of circumstances. Only then can they be sure they're making decisions that reflect your desires.
For the most part, advance directives consist of the following documents:
Medical power of attorney: This document lets you name your partner or someone else you trust to make your medical decisions if you're unable to make them yourself.
Durable power of attorney for finances (DPOA): This document gives you the right to appoint an agent or attorney-in-fact (someone you trust to pay your bills, write checks on your account, buy and sell property, make investments, and so on) while you're mentally incompetent (suffering from a debilitating mental illness or disease that prevents you from managing your own affairs) — whether or not you will recover.
Living will: This legal document allows you to make known what medical treatment you want performed — if any — when you're in a vegetative state, in a coma, or when you're at the end of your life with little or no hope of recovery.
Do not resuscitate (DNR) order: A DNR lets you tell medical personnel not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or take other measures to revive you if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. If your advance directives don't include a DNR order, ask your doctor to write one for you.
You can get state specific advance directives free online from Rainbow Law or have a local gay or gay-friendly attorney draw them up.
Protect Your Relationship with LGBT Wills, Trusts, and Deeds
A good estate plan allows you to arrange, in advance, for the easy and uncomplicated transfer of your property to your family of choice after your death. To make an estate plan that functions to protect those you want to protect, whether it be your best friends, your partner and children, or someone else, you need to create specific legal documents that clearly spell out your wishes for how your property will be managed and to who will inherit it. A properly designed plan also lets you appoint someone you trust to make sure your instructions are carried out.
Estate planning documents generally include but are not limited to the following:
Last will and testament (will): This legal document lets you appoint someone to manage and settle your estate. You can also name someone you want to inherit your property, appoint a guardian for your child, and say whether you want to be buried or cremated. A will is subject to the probate process, which is a court proceeding that happens after your death to determine whether your will is valid.
Living revocable trust: This document is a written agreement where one person (the trustee) agrees to take care of property belonging to the person who signs the trust (the grantor). In most living trusts, the grantor and trustee is the same person. A living revocable trust lets you organize your money and property so that your trustee can easily manage them. Most importantly, a trust avoids probate and allows for the efficient transfer of your property to your beneficiaries after your death.
You can create wills and trusts to protect your relationship and your rights in these ways:
Consult with an attorney experienced in LGBT estate planning.
Make your own will or trust with legal document software.
Order documents from a reputable document preparation service like Rainbow Law.
Important Legal Documents Every Same-Sex Couple Needs
Especially when a gay or lesbian couple is ready to move in together, make a major purchase or have a child, some essential supporting documents are necessary to establish a legal relationship where none would otherwise exist. These documents include the following:
Living-together agreement (LTA): Also referred to as a partnership agreement, this document is a bit like a prenuptial agreement in that it sets forth the terms of your arrangement living together. It's a contract that lets you put into writing how the two of you will share expenses, property, and household chores. It also lets you say how you'll divvy up your property in the event of a breakup.
Co-parenting agreement: This document is a contract between the parents — even when only one of them is a legal parent — that sets forth the terms of how they will parent the child while they live together as a family and how they will continue to do so after they break up.
Nomination of guardian: This document lets you appoint your partner or someone else to raise your child in case you become incapacitated or die before the child reaches the age of 18. Co-parents should also nominate a guardian for their child in case something happens to both of them while their child is still a minor.
Authorization to consent to the medical treatment of a minor child: This document lets you appoint your partner to make emergency and non-emergency decisions about your child's medical treatment. This document can also include authorization to interact with your child's teachers and other school officials, travel with your child, and so on.
Hospital visitation form: This form notifies medical staff and others that it's your wish that your partner and children (or whomever else you prefer) to have priority over all others to be at your hospital bedside.
Disposition of remains form: This form lets you appoint your partner to make your funeral or cremation arrangements and to take possession of your ashes afterward.
You can obtain these documents from an experienced attorney or through Rainbow Law.