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LGBTQ+ Couples and the Importance of Estate Planning

Davidson Estate Law Jan. 18, 2024

Happy lesbian multiethnic couple with childrenThe Supreme Court's decision in 2015 guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry was a significant step forward for the LGBTQ+ community. It meant more than just the affirmation of love—it opened up access to federal benefits and made navigating legal processes like estate planning more streamlined. Whether you're single, married, or in a domestic partnership, there are steps you can take now to ensure your affairs are in order. 

Why Estate Planning Is Critical

Almost all adults have an estate, but not everyone has an estate plan. In a study conducted by LawDepot, they found that only 23% of persons surveyed had an estate plan in place.  

Estate planning is a crucial step for all couples. After all, it helps to make sure that you and your partner have the legal authority to make decisions for each other in times of crisis, and that your shared assets are protected.  

Furthermore, estate planning can provide a safety net for anyone who may lack family support due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. For people with children, estate planning is critical to name legally-binding guardians, seeing such decisions aren't left to probate courts. Starting the process may seem daunting, but with the right guidance, you'll be making major healthcare and financial decisions with confidence.  

Key Matters to Consider for the LGBTQ+ Community

At Davidson Estate Law, we understand that estate planning can present unique challenges for individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. While everyone's situation is different, here are some common issues you might encounter: 

  1. Guardianship Issues: If you have minor children, it's crucial to nominate guardians who would raise them in the event of your death.

  1. Resistance in Decision Making: If you're unmarried, you might face resistance when making medical and financial decisions for an incapacitated partner. Setting up a durable financial power of attorney and healthcare proxy can help ensure you have the legal right to make these decisions. 

  1. Distribution of Assets: Estate planning allows you to specify how your property will be divided after death, regardless of your state's laws. This is particularly important if you have a partner but aren't legally married. 

  1. Advance Directives: These documents help ensure that the person you want making important decisions for you can do so legally. This can be especially important for transgender individuals who want to ensure their identity and pronouns are respected in all situations. 

  1. Naming Beneficiaries: It's important to name beneficiaries for assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies. This is a legally-binding way to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes. 

Remember, changes in life circumstances like marriage, divorce, buying or selling a home, or having children may require you to revisit and update your estate plan. Our advice is to put a trusted legal ally in your corner who you can return to for ongoing estate planning support.  

How to Prepare for Estate Planning

When it comes to financial assets, it's critical to review and update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies regularly. By naming your partner as the beneficiary, these assets pass directly to them, avoiding the probate process. Additionally, it's important to consider assets listed in a will or trust. You can name beneficiaries for specific assets, such as family heirlooms or investments, to ensure they're distributed according to your wishes. 

Open and honest conversations about estate planning goals are essential. By discussing your desires and concerns with your partner and consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a comprehensive plan that protects your assets and ensures your wishes are carried out. Remember, estate plans should be reviewed and updated as your circumstances change—like adding or removing a spouse or welcoming children into your family. 

Estate Planning Terms You Should Know

We believe it's crucial to provide you with clear and concise explanations of the legal terms we use. We know that estate planning can be complex, and we're committed to making the process easier for you. With that in mind, here are ten essential estate planning terms you should know: 

  1. Revocable Living Trust: This is a trust you create while you're alive and can change or revoke. It offers flexibility for families and helps avoid probate. 

  1. Irrevocable Trust: This is a trust with terms that are typically permanent and can't be altered after creation. It's useful for reducing taxes and protecting assets from creditors. 

  1. Executor: This person is responsible for carrying out the terms of a will after your death. 

  1. Financial Powers of Attorney: These are legal documents that delegate a competent agent to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. 

  1. Pour-Over Will: This type of will allows the transfer of property into a trust upon your death. It can distribute assets not initially in the trust according to your wishes. 

  1. Advanced Healthcare Directive: This document appoints an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and outlines your healthcare preferences and choices. 

  1. HIPAA Healthcare Privacy Documents: These authorization forms allow an agent to have access to your healthcare information. 

  1. Probate: This is the court-monitored process of distributing properties and assets to creditors and beneficiaries after your death. 

  1. Beneficiary: This is an individual or entity named to receive assets or property from a will, trust, or life insurance policy. 

  1. Guardian: This is an individual appointed to care for and make decisions on behalf of minor children or individuals who are incapacitated. 

The Support You Deserve

At Davidson Estate Law, we're here to guide you through each step of the estate planning process. We understand the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community and are committed to providing compassionate and comprehensive legal counsel. Let's work together to clarify your wishes and protect your future. 

Our firm is based in Oakland, California, and serves people from all walks of life throughout Walnut Creek, Berkeley, San Francisco, El Cerrito, Alameda, and the Bay Area.