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Are you one of the 70%?

August 11th, 2010

Did you know that national statistics indicate that over seventy percent (70%) of Americans die without creating a Last Will and Testament or other estate plan? This is a staggering statistic; it means that 70% of adults are letting others make decisions for them.

Are you one of the seventy percent? Do you really want someone else to make tough decisions on your behalf in times of crisis?

Here are some reasons why people do not create a Will:

  • Do not want to think about dying or being incapacitated.
  • Do not know where to begin.
  • Think they do not have any assets. People assume they have to be rich or married with children to create a Will.
  • Procrastination - people know they need to create an estate plan but put it off.
  • Legal costs are high.

What happens if you do not have a Will or Estate Plan:

  • State determines who gets your assets, not you.
  • Probate laws generally provide if a person dies without a Will, their property goes to family, rather than a partner they had a relationship with for years or decades.
  • Not having a Will may cause disagreements or lawsuits between your partner and your family.
  • Your loved ones would have the burden to decide what your wishes are in times of crisis.

Legal DocTypes of Estate Planning Documents

No one wants to think about his or her own death, but taking the time now to complete some basic documents can save you and your family much heartache later. You’ll get more peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be followed and your family and friends will be taken care of. Listed below are some basic estate planning documents:

Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament allows you to set out your specific wishes for how you want your property and assets to be divided upon your death. It also designates who will assume guardianship responsibility of any minor children if neither parent can serve as guardian. You can use a will to make bequests to charities. Wills are easy to prepare, but are subjected to probate process, which, depending on the size of your estate, could take some time.

Living Will
A Living Will is a legal document used to specify your wishes for end-of-term health care decisions. It states that you do not want life-prolonging treatment if there is no hope of recovery, for example in the event of terminal illness or irreversible coma. Having a Living Will lets others know what your wishes are when you are unable to communicate them yourself.

Durable Power of Attorney
You can grant a Power of Attorney to another person (called your agent) for any case where you cannot represent your own interests. For example, you can send an agent to an important meeting you are unable to attend, and they may act on your behalf for the duration of that meeting. A Durable Power of Attorney, on the other hand, remains in effect if you become incompetent. In cases of terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness, you can set out health care directives for your agent, much like in a Living Will.

Hospital Visitation
This authorization is used to give visitation rights to a person who is not a legally recognized family member, should you become unconscious or unable to communicate yourself. You should have this document if you want your partner or someone who is not considered a family member by the state to be able to visit you in the hospital, should you become unable to communicate for your wishes.

Domestic Partnership Agreement
The Domestic Partnership Agreement is a document that a couple can enter into to dictate their contractual rights as a couple.

You can find all these legal documents and other estate planning forms on Legalout.com. Our online interview makes it easy to create these important documents - get started now for a piece of mind!

Online Legal Wills Provide an Affordable Solution
Everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, and the document should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Preparing and maintaining your Will doesn’t have to be time consuming, difficult, or costly. Knowing that an hour of an attorney’s time can cost $200 or more, many people put off preparing their Wills. However, you don’t have to use the services of an attorney to create an effective Will. You and the other members of your family can create your own Online Legal Will easily and inexpensively.

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For same-sex couples, a patchwork of marriage laws

May 12th, 2010

David Crary’s article, “For Same-sex Couples, a Patchwork of Marriage Laws” highlights the importance of preparing legal documents to protect your wishes and loved ones, especially if you are in a same-sex relationship. 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.

Estate planning is an opportunity to protect your wishes and loved ones - LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

For Same-sex Couples, a Patchwork of Marriage Laws

By DAVID CRARY
The Associated Press
Monday, May 10, 2010; 12:00 AM

PHILADELPHIA — When government forms inquire of her marital status, Isabelle Barker sometimes resorts to an asterisk and an explanatory note.

Cara Palladino (left) and Isabelle Barker (Matt Slocum/ Associated Press)

She and her wife, Cara Palladino, got married five years ago in Massachusetts. Six months later, for job reasons, they moved to Pennsylvania - one of the majority of states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.

Hence the asterisk.

“I’m not single. I’m married in Massachusetts, but I’m not married in Pennsylvania, I’m not married in the eyes of the federal government,” she said. “It’s this weird limbo, this legal netherworld.”

Pictured left: Cara Palladino (left) and Isabelle Barker (Matt Slocum/ Associated Press).

Barker and Palladino, and their 15-month-old son, Will, have plenty of company across the United States as gay and lesbian couples confront an unprecedented and often confusing patchwork of marriage laws.

Historically, such laws have been the jurisdiction of the states, not the federal government, and the common practice throughout U.S. history has been for any given state to recognize a marriage performed legally in another state.

The advent of same-sex marriage in 2004 has changed all that.

Five states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa - and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. New York and Maryland recognize those marriages even though same-sex couples can’t wed within their borders. California had legal same-sex marriage for about five months in 2008.

However, the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, nor do the vast majority of states, including Pennsylvania. Even with a valid out-of-state marriage license, gay and lesbian couples in those states face uncertainty, extra legal bills and inevitable rebuffs that straight couples avoid.

Barker and Palladino, who began dating in 1998, moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2004 and married in February 2005 in a low-key ceremony at a Northampton coffee shop.

They had previously exchanged commitment rings - the chief motive for marrying was to obtain health insurance for Barker through Palladino’s job at the University of Massachusetts.

Later in 2005, Barker’s own academic job ended and she was offered a postdoctoral fellowship at Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia. The couple decided to move, though they knew there’d be drawbacks.

“In Massachusetts, people understood what our relationship was,” Palladino said. “I miss being able to say, ‘Oh, we’re married’ and not having to explain it any further.”

Barker elaborated.

“When you’re in Pennsylvania, you’re constantly having to wonder, “Do they get this? Do they not get this?’” she said. “You get these looks of befuddlement.”

Day to day, there’s plenty of support from friends, neighbors and employers - Barker coordinates summer programs at Bryn Mawr, Palladino is a fundraiser at the University of Pennsylvania. They feel comfortable in their diverse Philadelphia neighborhood, Mount Airy, and send Will to a day-care center patronized by several other lesbian couples.

But frustration was evident as they told of the hoops they had to jump through, at extra cost, to amass legal documents they wouldn’t have needed in Massachusetts - including a second-parent adoption giving Palladino parental rights along with Barker, who is Will’s biological mother.

At their lawyer’s advice, the two women have stored their legal forms on flash drives that they carry constantly.

“We’re 12 years into our relationship,” Palladino said. “I’d just like to know when we’re done proving it over and over. … To have to work harder and save harder to make up for what everybody else gets just as an entitlement does really make me angry.”

Same-sex couples in non-recognition states received a modest boost from President Obama in April, when he ordered new rules providing such couples with visitation and medical decision-making rights in any hospital participating in Medicaid or Medicare.

Evan Wolfson, who heads the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, called the directive “a small, but welcome step forward.”

“Of course, the real cure is to end exclusion from marriage,” Wolfson added. “Piecemeal steps, addressing one protection at a time, will take up a lot more time than either the administration or American families can afford.”

Wolfson says the current patchwork not only discriminates against gay families, but also causes headaches for employers who have to consider the diverse laws as they weigh transfers of employees with same-sex partners.

Gay and lesbian couples who turn to the courts when they break up are getting mixed results in non-recognition states. Judges in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania recently denied divorces to same-sex couples who had married in Canada and Massachusetts, while New York and New Jersey have granted such divorces even though they don’t allow same-sex marriage.

In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott is appealing the decisions of judges in Dallas and Austin to grant same-sex divorces. In Arizona, some lawyers have succeeded in getting out-of-state same-sex marriages annulled on grounds they were never legal under state law in the first place.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, represented the speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in a recent unsuccessful lawsuit by a woman who’d had a same-sex wedding in Canada and sought to divorce in Oklahoma.

“The government cannot issue a divorce for a marriage it doesn’t recognize,” said ADF senior legal counsel Austin Nimocks.

The uneven legal landscape poses daunting challenges for lawyers who work with same-sex couples - not only on divorces but also on estate planning, parental rights and other matters.

“It seems like every state has a different law,” said Phoenix lawyer Kathy Gummere. “We have people who are married in some states and not married in others, which, in this day and age of everybody moving around all the time, is ludicrous.”

For some couples, among the most galling problems is trying ensure that both are legally recognized as parents of their children. Many states allow second-parent adoption for same-sex couples, which addresses this situation, but many other states do not.

That’s been a problem for Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand of Mobile, Ala. They married in California in September 2008 during the brief period before same-sex marriages were banned there by a ballot measure, Proposition 8.

It was a whirlwind wedding trip, and the couple promptly returned to Alabama - a state unlikely to recognize same-sex unions without some sort of federal mandate that for now seems far away.

Even with a marriage license, Searcy has been unable to complete a second-parent adoption and is not recognized by Alabama as a legal parent of the couple’s son, Khaya, whom McKeand gave birth to in 2006. Yet despite that rebuff, there’s no talk of moving out.

“We’re from the South - this is our home,” Searcy said. “If everybody moves to states that recognize, it, how are we going to change?”

Day to day in Mobile, there’s little practical benefit to being married, Searcy said, though she and McKeand enjoy referring to each other as “my wife.”

“One of the biggest things - now that Khaya is talking - he’s constantly going around telling people, ‘My mommies are married,’” Searcy said. “He’s really proud of that. Seeing that through his eyes, that’s pretty special.”

Carrington Mead, a lesbian attorney from Jacksonville, Fla., struggles with the complex array of laws both in her practice and in private life. She considers herself married, based on a civil union obtained in Vermont in 2008 - but Florida doesn’t recognize the relationship.

“I feel I’m beating my head against the wall,” said Mead, a Navy veteran. “It’s frustrating to be an officer of the court, charged with upholding the law, and sit there realizing you have fewer rights than the people you’re serving.”

Attorney Tiffany Palmer counsels gay and lesbian couples in Philadelphia, helping them sort through the array of legal protections they might need in a state that doesn’t recognize their unions.

When clients raise the possibility of an out-of-state marriage, “I often advise them, it’s probably better that they don’t,” Palmer said.

“But there are so many things attached to marriage beyond legal conditions,” she said. “They go forward anyway, even though it’s not necessarily an easy path.”

Indeed, Palmer and her partner of 10 years plan to ignore the legal cautions themselves and get married July 4 in Vermont. Their 3-year-old daughter will be the flower girl.

“She’s starting to learn and understand what marriage is,” Palmer said. “Now she knows that two adults who love each other, even if they’re two women or two men, can get married.”

Unlike Alabama, Pennsylvania is receptive to second-parent adoptions, so same-sex couples can fairly readily establish that both are legal parents of any children they have.

Tracy and Mia Levesque, Philadelphians who got married in Canada in 2003, said the marriage license helped speed a second-parent adoption after the birth of their 3-year-old daughter, Josephine - with the judge seeing no need for detailed questions about their relationship.

On other fronts, though, lack of marriage recognition can be grating - for example, when they file separate tax forms, with separate deductions, despite raising a daughter together and jointly owning a website design firm.

“It’s ridiculous,” Tracy Levesque said.

Another Philadelphia couple, Gisele Pinck and Kathy Coyle, has been going through tri-state legal gyrations.

They own a house in Massachusetts, where they married in 2004 and still spend the summers. They work and pay taxes in Pennsylvania, which won’t let them file jointly. And last year, they decided that Pinck would give birth to their son in New Jersey because that state’s laws - unlike Pennsylvania’s - allowed them both to be listed as parents on the original birth certificate.

They still felt a need to spend roughly $2,500 for Coyle to go through a second-parent adoption in Pennsylvania so she’d have parental rights there.

“In some ways that doesn’t seem fair,” Pinck said.

On the other hand, Pinck and Coyle say their employer, a Quaker secondary school, fully supports their relationship. That’s a trend nationwide, as more employers respect the marital status of gay and lesbian workers even if state governments don’t.

In Lawrence, Kan., Dave Greenbaum and Mike Silverman say there are upsides and downsides to being husbands in a state which voted by a 70 percent majority in 2005 to ban recognition of any same-sex union.

They got married in California in 2008 but never seriously considered abandoning Lawrence, where Greenbaum runs a computer business.

“Even in a state like Kansas, unless someone is a complete bigot, they’re going to respect the intent behind the marriage license even if they can’t officially recognize it,” Silverman said.

Then there’s the nomenclature benefit.

“Until our marriage, I’d get semi-awkward questions from people - ‘What do you call Mike? Your partner? Your spouse?’” Greenbaum said. “Now it’s easier for family and friends. ‘OK, he’s your husband.’ It’s a framework that everyone understands.”

But the acceptance doesn’t carry over to tax season.

“Any time you’re filling out a tax form, you have to lie by declaring yourself single even though you’re married, so you don’t get in trouble with the government,” Silverman said.

Jennifer Pizer, marriage project director for the national gay-rights group Lambda Legal, says attitudes and laws affecting same-sex couples vary widely across the country - generating an evolving flow of “incredibly interesting legal questions.”

If a married same-sex couple wants to move to a non-recognition state, “it’s important to do everything they can do, with private legal documents and commitments from employers, to protect their families,” she said.

“It’s going to keep happening. People don’t decide whether to walk down the aisle or not based on the intricacies of interstate family recognition.”

On the Net:

Visit the Task Force to learn about State Laws Prohibiting Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships

Create a Basic Estate Plan:

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents (click the link to learn more about the document):

Safeguard your relationship, secure your financial, property and health care rights by taking action now with LegalOut’s estate planning legal documents.

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What is Estate Planning All About?

March 5th, 2010

No one likes to think about times of personal crisis such as illness, accidents, or even death. 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.

Many of us put off estate planning for one reason or another. We know we need to do something, but we wait. We defer making a decision.

Why do we put off estate planning?

Some reasons may be:

  • lack of time
  • budget concerns
  • not knowing exactly what we need
  • we don’t want thing about death or crisis situations

But estate planning doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Estate planning is really about taking control over your own life and legacy and providing for who and what you love.

Not planning, means letting someone else plan for you. 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.

Estate planning is an opportunity to protect your wishes and loved ones - LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

How does LegalOut work?

It only takes three easy steps to safeguard your rights:

1. Select the documents that are right for you.

2. Review your documents using our simple online tools.

3. Finalize your documents. We’ll give you clear instructions at every step of the way.

Create a Basic Estate Plan:

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents (click the link to learn more about the document):

Safeguard your relationship, secure your financial, property and health care rights by taking action now with LegalOut’s estate planning legal documents.

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Adoption Resources for LGBT Couples and Individuals

July 22nd, 2009

iac

Guest Blogger: LegalOut welcomes Independent Adoption Center (IAC) as a guest blogger to provide resources to LGBT families with their quest to adopt. IAC, founded in 1982, is a caring, open and supportive agency that understands the unique issues LGBT families face and has a long and proud tradition of working with gay and lesbian families in their pursuit to adopt.

LGBT families face some unique challenges when pursuing adoption. The biggest challenges are discriminatory laws and outdated, and unintentionally discriminatory, adoption agency practices.

Although adoption by LGBT families is outlawed in some states, and is difficult, though not illegal, in other states, in the vast majority of states LGBT adoptions are legal. The Independent Adoption Center (IAC) works with LGBT families to navigate the complexity of each state’s adoption laws to ensure that every adoption is done safely and legally.

The IAC is also committed to best practices in adoption, including practices that ensure the equal treatment of LGBT families. For example, a long standing practice at many adoption agencies is to ask birthparents if they are open to considering LGBT families before presenting family profiles.

This question implies that there would be some acceptable reason to consider excluding LGBT families.

The IAC has always taken the position that all families are equal and we do not ask birthparents if they are open to certain families. We assume they want to see all the families that are open to their situation so they can decide for themselves what is the best placement for their baby. As a result IAC has never had a longer wait time for LGBT families than for heterosexual families. In fact LGBT families have a shorter wait on average.

Although discriminatory laws are a problem in some states the IAC will work with LGBT families to ensure they adopt legally. We also are committed to ensuring best practices in adoption, and continually evaluate our program to ensure it serving all families equally.

Interested in learning more about adoption? Contact the IAC:  send an email or visit IAC Gay & Lesbians Families Web site.

Have an adoption question? Ask the Adoption Experts - Answers to All Your Adoption Questions.

Adoption Experts is a project by the Independent Adoption Center with the goal of spreading reliable information about domestic adoption, open adoption, and other adoption topics. Our experts have the answers to all your adoption questions. Ask your question now>>

Check out adoption stories written by some gay and lesbian families that have adopted through the IAC. Each of these families’ stories is as unique and incredible as the individuals who make up all of our open adoptive families. Read more>>

LegalOut Note:
If you are planning to start a family, in a long-term committed relationship, ensure your interests are followed should something unexpected occur.  Protect your wishes and family  by preparing legal documents. At minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Shared Parenting Agreement, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney. Protect yourself now - create legal documents.

Visit Legalout’s LGBT Issues section to learn more about adoption laws and terms.

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LegalOut Featured in ABA Journal

June 25th, 2009

Serving Gays on the Net

New website helps prepare documents, find representation

July 2009 Issue
By Julie Kay

To read article from the ABA Journal Web site visit: Serving Gays on the Net

It was the 2004 election, and Lindalisa Severo was distressed. The Atlanta lawyer and gay rights activist was disturbed by the num­ber of anti-gay-marriage amendments on state ballots (including in her own state of Georgia) and thought other gays and lesbians were being systematically denied legal rights available to the general population.

So she got the idea to start an online service where the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community could turn to have legal documents pre­pared—everything from living wills to parenting agreements to powers of attorney.

Her idea was to have an easy and affordable way for gays and lesbians to fill out forms online without having to visit a lawyer. She realized that while same-sex couples in big cities may feel comfortable visiting lawyers, those in smaller, rural or conservative towns might not. She also wanted the service to be affordable.

After Severo teamed up with her brother, Internet guru Tony Severo, as well as online legal services provider RocketLawyer.com and other partners, she launched LegalOut this spring.

In addition to document preparation, LegalOut offers document storage and sharing, news blogs, links to petitions and other activist sites, and a referral network of lawyers sympathetic to LGBT causes.

The service costs $20 a month or $120 annually for unlimited document preparation, with the first document free.

“I felt like if they weren’t rec­ognized by the law, at least legal­ly same-sex couples could be tied togeth­er,” says Severo. “I’ve heard horror stories of one of the partners passing away and the family taking the house and leaving the other partner with nothing.

“If you’re not protected as an LGBT couple, you could really lose a lot.”

Even in states that don’t ban same-sex marriage, same-sex couples often lack the right to visit hospitalized partners, to make health care decisions for ill partners or to assume community property when partners die. They also may have no clear-cut separation or parenting-rights agreements.

LegalOut is one of several online legal documentation services that have sprung up in the last few years. Pink Legal offers similar services in the United Kingdom. RocketLawyer.com and Rainbow Law Center do so in the United States.

Many of the services, like Legal­Out, are state-specific: The online form asks which state you live in, then guides you to specific questions based on that state’s laws.

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, says such services are needed, particularly in rural or conservative areas. “Law­yers often closet themselves and clients often closet themselves,” she says. Lambda Legal is a civil rights organization that represents gay causes in the courts.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, many LGBT individuals have lower incomes than those of heterosexuals. And the fact that LegalOut is affordable is par­ticularly vital, Pizer says.

While Pizer advocates permanent changes to anti-gay laws, she recommends individuals prepare legal documents in the short term to protect themselves.

“Everyone can have a will prepared, prepare a health-care advance directive and power of attorney papers,” she says. “The law refuses to recognize that we exist, so yes, there is an extra degree of need.”

For more:

A Congressional Budget Office study discusses 1,138 federal statutory provisions affected by marital status.

Note from Lindalisa Severo, LegalOut President:
“The LGBT community has always been fueled by grassroots efforts in conjunction with legal advocates. Although I am not a lawyer, as mentioned in the article, I was motivated by my commitment to the community and have benefited from the input from attorneys equally committed to enriching LegalOut with their expertise.”

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LegalOut Introduces New Do-It-Yourself Domestic Partnership Agreement for the LGBT Community

June 17th, 2009

ATLANTA – LegalOut announced the addition of a new online do-it-yourself domestic partnership agreement, an important legal document for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples.  Since rights between same-sex couples in many states are governed by principles of contract law, and not family law, a domestic partnership agreement outlines the legal rights and responsibilities of each partnership in a long-term committed relationship. The easy domestic partnership agreement is the latest interactive legal document published by LegalOut in partnership with RocketLawyer.com.

The LegalOut Domestic Partnership Agreement identifies each partner’s responsibilities, such as how to share income, pay bills, and whether property is meant to be jointly or individually owned. This document can also help in the event of a separation by clarifying ownership of property and by specifying a dispute resolution mechanism.  The do-it-yourself document is easy and inexpensive to complete.

“When a same-sex couple decides to form a long-term committed relationship, it’s smart to obtain a domestic partnership document to help solidify the relationship by outlining the responsibilities of each partner”, said Attorney Allison McDonald of the The Law Office of Tavis L. Knighten, P.C, who reviewed the new domestic partnership agreement.  She continued, “A domestic partnership agreement supplements other estate planning documents such as: living wills, financial and healthcare power of attorney documents, co-parenting agreements, and hospital visitation authorization documents, all of which help to protect a couple’s interests.”

LegalOut‘s President, Lindalisa Severo said, “Many states do not recognize any form of same-sex couple marriage benefits, as evident in the recent ruling in California to uphold Prop 8. It’s important for LGBT couples to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes. A domestic partnership agreement helps outline these wishes.”

Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer’s Founder and CEO added, “We’re proud to partner with LegalOut to provide the Domestic Partnership Agreement online.  The LGBT community has unique legal needs, and LegalOut is leading the way to help fill that need. It’s essential for everyone to have easy legal documents to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Thanks to LegalOut, it’s easier and more affordable for members of the LGBT community to take care of their legal needs.  The first legal document is always free, and for $19.95 per month users have unlimited access to all LegalOut documents and membership benefits, including an online vault to securely store the document, document sharing , electronic signatures, and more.

Start your domestic partnership agreement now!

About LegalOut

LegalOut is an online resource center that provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  Powered by RocketLawyer.com™, LegalOut provides hundreds of do-it–yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, financial and health care power of attorney documents, co-parenting agreements, and many others. In addition, the site provides resources to keep members informed, empowered, and protected – connecting LGBT individuals, families and business operators with lawyers who understand the unique needs of the LGBT community.

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