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Protecting Your Wishes: Importance of Preparing Legal Documents

July 2nd, 2010

The LGBT community has seen great strides in equality the past couple of years, with certain states passing marriage equality laws for same-sex couples. However, there is still a federal ban, Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA), that restricts about 1,138 benefits from same-sex couples and many states do not recognize any form of same-sex couple marriage benefits.

For example, did you know that unless otherwise specified in many states, only legal spouses or family members - not lifelong partners - can visit you in the hospital should you be unconscious? Or that vital decisions like power of attorney can default to a biological family member who doesn’t even know what you wishes are or they may not “agree with” your sexual orientation.

Marriage laws for same-sex couples vary from state to state, county by county, without any legal documents it will be harder to protect your wishes such as direct who you want to visit you in the hospital in case of an emergency; name a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself or state the medical treatments you desire in times of a crisis.

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Advance legal planning protects an individual’s right to make their own health care and financial choices and prevents unnecessary suffering for families who may struggle with these decisions later on. It is a proactive process that enables the individual to make decisions about their future, along with family members, health care providers and counsel, prior to their physical and cognitive decline.
If you are in a committed relationship, you may want your significant other to be able to make medical and legal decisions for you, should you unable to make them yourself. You would like to plan for the future of your family to ensure they are taken care of when you are gone.

Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others. By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision. Because, unfortunately, LGBT individuals cannot rely state and/or federal laws to take care of them.

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Domestic Partnership Agreement.

Often times, people put off creating legal documents, we know we need to do something, but we wait. We defer making a decision. Why do we wait? Our reasons are different. Some reasons are:

  • lack of time
  • budget concerns
  • not knowing exactly what we need
  • we don’t want think about death or crisis situations
  • we don’t want to have the conversation.

But such planning is essential for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals and couples, whose basic civil rights, depending on state legislation, can be severely restricted. LGBT individuals need to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes and are not dictated by laws that do not fit your life and relationships or individuals who are not involved in your life and relationships. Legal documents can provide you legal and emotional security in the event that something unexpected occurs.

Once you have prepared legal documents, there’s one more essential step that many people don’t think about until there’s an emergency - you need to keep those documents somewhere safe, yet easily accessible. Make sure to give copies to your health care agent, trusted family member, your partner or anyone you trust that should have your directives. It’s also vital to carry them with you, especially if you are traveling throughout the United States or going abroad. In case of an emergency you want to make sure you have your documents on hand to show hospital staff or any other person that may need to see proof of your wishes.

Marriage Recognition:
• State issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples (5 states and the District of Columbia). Connecticut (2008), District of Columbia (2010), Iowa (2009), Massachusetts (2004), New Hampshire (2010) and Vermont (2009).

• State recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction (2 states) Maryland (2010) and New York (2008).

• California had legal same-sex marriage for about five months in 2008.

LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

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