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When to Update Your Living Will

June 8th, 2011

Be sure to review your Living Will periodically. Living Wills are easily modified to reflect changes in your health, finances, or perspective on end-of-life care. Even if your wishes don’t change, a Living Will should be regularly updated to take into account changes in medical technology. Consider updating your Living Will when you need to:

  • Change or set limits on medical care to meet your ability to pay
  • Respond to changes in medical technology
  • Respond to a change in health care laws
  • Respond to a changes in your health, including: decline, terminal diagnosis, possibility of surgery and hospitalization, or pregnancy
  • Designate a different person to make health care decisions for you
  • Move to a new state
  • Respond to changes in your beliefs and wishes concerning end-of-life care
  • Respond to the death of a loved one or significant other

Remember that new documents will generally supersede old ones - in other words, executing a new Living Will has the effect of revoking a prior Living Will.

Update your Living Will with LegalOut.

Article by RocketLawyer.

Living Will

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Protect Your Wishes and Family

March 31st, 2011

Happy Spring. LegalOut wishes you a bountiful & joyous spring!

A new spring brings the traditional spring cleaning, a good time to organize, decide on priorities, and get your home in order. Spring is also an excellent time to review your legal situation and make sure that you have essential legal documents to ensure your wishes and family are protected. Check out some important legal documents below or for more information or other legal documents visit Create Legal Docs>>

Prepare Legal Documents

Last Will and Testament
Protect Your Loved Ones: A Will is a document under which a Will writer states his or her intentions regarding the persons or organizations (”Beneficiaries”) who will receive the Will writer’s property, and the person or organization (”Executor”) who will carry out the Will writer’s wishes. Click here to prepare a Last Will and Testament>>

Living Will/Advance Directive for Healthcare
Protect Your Wishes: A Living Will authorizes an agent of your choosing to communicate your life-support decisions to medical personnel in the event that you are unable to do so. A Living Will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. A Living Will also ensures that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.Click here to prepare a Living Will/Advance Directive for Healthcare>>

Domestic Partnership Agreement
Protect Your Partnership: A Domestic Partnership Agreement is a document that a couple can enter into to dictate their contractual rights as a couple. It is also used to outline the responsibilities of each partner when a couple decides to form a long-term committed relationship, such as how to share income and pay bills and whether property is meant to be jointly or individually owned. Click here to prepare a Domestic Partnership Agreement>>

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Why a Living Will is Important

February 4th, 2011

Recently, The South Florida Gay News.com posted a significant article, “Beyond Living Well is a Living Will” by Jarret Terrill about the importance of preparing a living will. This article highlights the challenges people may face without a living will, a form of an Advance Care Directive.

Advance medical directives pertain to treatment preferences and allow you to appoint someone you trust (a family member, close friend, or partner) - to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.

A living will is a written document that specifies what types of medical treatment are desired. A health care proxy names a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Many gay men and women are faced with anti-gay family members that they would not entrust an “end of life” decision to. Without a living will issuing advance directives, Florida hospitals would be bound by law to follow the directives of distant family members over a lover’s wishes.

A living will, also known as an Advance Care Directive, is a document that tells doctors, attorneys and law enforcement which person in your life is responsible for executing decisions you’ve made about your healthcare if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Says Daniel W. Humbert, a Fort Lauderdale Attorney who has developed a specialty in estate planning,  “a General Power of Attorney is very broad in scope and tends to give the Attorney-In-Fact (the person you designate) the power to do virtually anything. A living will is quite different.”

Humbert says that a living will is “where you can express your wishes for what they call extraordinary life-saving measures. This would be particularly important for a person who becomes incompetent or goes into a coma or something like that.”

“A living will is essential for everybody, but it’s particularly important to the gay community,” says Humbert.  Laws and regulations concerning those extraordinary circumstances and the decision-making process favor family members. Since the legal definition of a family member varies from state to state, this can pose a problem if you don’t have a living will.”

Click here to read the entire article>>

Without legal documents you are at risk of not having your wishes carried out in the event that something unexpected occurs. 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.

Prepare Legal DocumentsLegalOut’s online resource center provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  We provide easy-to-use tools for customizing your documents online, in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace and provides hundreds of do-it-yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, power of attorney documents, last will and testament, and many others.

By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

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Give the Gift of Estate Planning!

December 17th, 2010

Christmas GiftsThe 2010 holiday season is upon us which means holiday dinners, holiday travel and shopping for gifts. A gift to consider this holiday season is the gift of estate planning. Legal documents provide you and your loved ones with a peace of mind.

LGBT individuals especially 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 their life and relationships. Did you know that unless otherwise specified in many states, 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 and the state determines who gets your assets, not you. Without an estate plan, your loved ones would have the burden to decide what your wishes are in times of crisis. Preparing legal documents will secure your wishes and help loved ones know what your intentions are during times of crisis.

Give the gift of estate planning for yourself or loved ones and you’ll have peace of mind for many holidays to come.

Let LegalOut help you give the gift of estate planning, visit our legal documents center.

Top Reasons Individuals Put Off Preparing Legal Documents

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

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

Can you identify with one of these reasons of putting off estate planning? Without legal documents you are at risk of not having your wishes carried out in the event that something unexpected occurs. 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.

LegalOut can help you avoid putting off creating legal documents. LegalOut’s online resource center provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  We provide easy-to-use tools for customizing your documents online, in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace and provides hundreds of do-it-yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, power of attorney documents, last will and testament, and many others.

By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

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Chicago Tribune: Business Securing the future as life partners

August 20th, 2010

From the Chicago Tribune: Securing the future as life partners
If you don’t want to - or can’t - marry, it’s critical to stitch together some legal protections

By Jane Bennett Clark, Tribune Media Services
1:20 PM CDT, August 19, 2010

Julie Kurland and Marcia Diehl live in a Victorian home in Takoma Park, a leafy Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. The couple take turns walking their dog, Cody, past the 1920s bungalows and gabled Victorians that line the streets of their neighborhood. On Sundays they wander over to the farmers market and spend the rest of the day gardening or reading on their wide front porch.

It’s a routine that befits any contented couple. But Kurland, 46, and Diehl, 56, are not married, nor would their union be recognized federally or in all but five states. And while a California court case regarding the legality of same-sex marriage winds its way through the appeals process (likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court), there still remains this present-day reality:

Gay couples, and straight couples who’d prefer not to marry, lack the legal structure that protects married couples’ rights on everything from property division to end-of-life decisions. Instead, they must create their own framework.

“It’s much more important for gay couples to have their documents lined up,” said Kurland. “We have to be sure we have our t’s crossed and our i’s dotted.”

Regardless of who you’re partnered to, if you commit to each other without tying the knot, these steps will help you avoid being caught in legal limbo:

Powers of attorney: Diehl’s parents, who are deceased, never acknowledged her relationship with Kurland. Had Diehl suffered a health crisis that rendered her unable to make her own decisions, “they would have thought it was their privilege, not Kurland’s, to make the decisions for me,” said Diehl. In most states, spouses and blood relatives take priority over nonrelatives in the absence of a document that specifies otherwise.

Diehl and Kurland assigned each other a health-care power of attorney, a state-specific document (available free at doctors’ offices, hospitals and on the Internet) that lets each make medical decisions on the other’s behalf. They also gave each other a durable power of attorney, which conveys the right for each to make financial and legal decisions for each other. A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as you sign it or upon a triggering event. Consult a lawyer about the choices.

Put it in writing: As singles, “you only have rights to something in the other’s name if there is a written agreement,” said Frederick Hertz, co-author of “A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples” (Nolo, $34.99). A cohabitation contract, like a prenuptial, lets you formalize financial and living arrangements while you are together and spell out who gets what if you break up. Drawing up a contract can run a few thousand dollars for a simple agreement, to $25,000 for a complex one. Consult a lawyer.

Wills: Without a legal will, your estate will be divvied up according to state intestacy law, which generally favors spouses, children and other relatives, not significant others. To avoid leaving your partner in the lurch, spend the $300 or so necessary to have a lawyer draw up a will or do it yourself online.

If you are the biological parent and want your partner to raise your child after you die, be sure that you nominate him or her as the personal guardian. As with any guardianship, the court has to sign off on the nomination, but it generally respects the legal parent’s wishes, with one significant exception: The other legal parent — say, a former spouse — is willing and suited for the job.

Establish joint ownership: In some states, married couples or those with marital rights can title jointly owned property as tenancy by the entirety. Each spouse owns the entire property, and neither can sell without the other’s OK. When one spouse dies, the survivor inherits the property, avoiding probate.

Unmarried couples may own property two ways: tenancy with the right of survivorship and tenancy in common. With the first, you own the property 50-50. When one of you dies, ownership passes to the survivor automatically. You can sell or give away your half, but you can’t bequeath it to someone else. Some unmarried couples choose this setup to avoid the public process of probate or as backup to a will. Tenancy in common is more flexible: It lets you own unequal shares of the property, and, if you sell, you walk away with whatever percentage you contributed.

Keep track of gifts: Married couples in the eyes of Uncle Sam can give each other unlimited assets without tax consequences. But unmarried heterosexual couples and all same-sex couples are considered “legal strangers” for federal tax purposes, said Dana Levit, a financial planner in Boston and president of PridePlanners, a nonprofit financial-education group. That awkward status requires you to report gifts to each other of more than $13,000 a year (as of 2010). The excess counts against each individual’s $1 million lifetime federal gift-tax exemption.

Even if you’re not in the habit of writing each other fat checks, you could exceed the $13,000 limit by, say, putting your partner on the title to a house you own. Although most people never reach the $1 million limit, you lessen your risk by transferring assets incrementally, said Hertz. “Give early, often and in small amounts.”

Also be careful to document your contributions to any joint property owned as tenancy with the right of survivorship. Lacking evidence to the contrary, the IRS assumes that the entire property belonged to the first person to die and calculates the estate-tax obligation accordingly. Keeping separate bank accounts helps clarify who paid for what, said Carrie Aburto, a financial adviser at Aspen Wealth Management in Denver.

Minimize your taxes: As single filers (same-sex married couples, in states that legally permit same-sex unions, generally have to file as marrieds on their state taxes and as singles on their federal taxes), you can allocate your deductions to maximize the tax benefit. For instance, the partner who earns more income can pay the mortgage and deduct the interest, while the other partner takes the standard deduction.

“Taxes are one area in which it’s often good to be gay,” said Levit.

Likewise, if you have a child, one of you can claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return. Assuming that the same parent provides more than 50percent of the child’s support, he or she also can file as head of household, which usually results in a lower tax bill. Couples with two kids may be able to split the difference, each claiming one child as a dependent and filing as head of household.

As singles, you have a good chance that at least one of you will fall below the income limits for tax benefits or tax-preferred accounts. Say one of you has an income that exceeds the limit for contributing to a Roth IRA, (which in 2010 is $120,000 for singles; $177,000 for married couples filing jointly) and the other has earned income that falls below the limit, the one who earns less can still establish a Roth IRA.

Provide for your survivor: You won’t have access to spousal Social Security benefits, but each of you can still name the other as beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Nonspousal beneficiaries of IRAs and 401(k) plans can take distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetime.

As for life insurance, leave enough so that each of you will be able to live comfortably if the other dies first. These days, term-life policies come cheap. A 50-year-old woman in good health can pick up a 20-year term policy with $500,000 of coverage for about $700 to $850 a year. A healthy 50-year-old man can buy the same for about $950 to $1,200.

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Check out LegalOut’s affordable online solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind! Through our simple, easy-to-follow online tools powered by RocketLawyer.com, you’ll quickly and easily create affordable legal documents — all in the privacy of your own home.

Knowledge is the first step to protection. For more information visit LegalOut - Protection 101 or click on the legal documents below for more details:

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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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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.

family

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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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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President Obama Orders Hospital Visitation For LGBT Families

April 23rd, 2010

obamaPresident Obama signed a memorandum that aims to protect the hospital visitation and healthcare decision-making rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enact regulations that require all hospitals receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to comply with a patient’s right to determine who may visit them, and to prevent hospitals from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as all federally protected classes.

In addition, the memorandum calls on the Secretary to issue new guidance and provide technical assistance to hospitals to help them comply with existing federal regulations that require them to respect individuals’ advanced healthcare directives and other documents establishing who should make healthcare decisions for them when they are unable to do so. This is an important directive, as it will help reinforce the current law that, if a same-sex spouse has been granted power of attorney or has been designated by the patient as having visitor rights, such rights must be respected.

The memorandum is a positive step forward to protect LGBT families, however, it’s important to note the LGBT community still needs to take proactive steps to ensure that the people we choose may visit us and make medical decisions on our behalf in times of emergency by creating the necessary legal documents that must be respected by hospital staff.

Without any legal documents it will be harder to protect your wishes and be able to direct who you want to visit you in the hospital in case of an emergency.

LegalOut provides the following legal documents to help you protect your wishes. For more information visit LegalOut - Protection 101 or click on the legal documents below for more details:

Here is the full text of the memorandum:

Presidential Memorandum - Hospital Visitation

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

SUBJECT: Respecting the Rights of Hospital Patients to Receive Visitors and to Designate Surrogate Decision Makers for Medical Emergencies

There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.

Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides — whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay. Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.

For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences. It means that doctors and nurses do not always have the best information about patients’ medications and medical histories and that friends and certain family members are unable to serve as intermediaries to help communicate patients’ needs. It means that a stressful and at times terrifying experience for patients is senselessly compounded by indignity and unfairness. And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall.

Many States have taken steps to try to put an end to these problems. North Carolina recently amended its Patients’ Bill of Rights to give each patient “the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patient’s immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient” — a right that applies in every hospital in the State. Delaware, Nebraska, and Minnesota have adopted similar laws.

My Administration can expand on these important steps to ensure that patients can receive compassionate care and equal treatment during their hospital stays. By this memorandum, I request that you take the following steps:

1. Initiate appropriate rulemaking, pursuant to your authority under 42 U.S.C. 1395x and other relevant provisions of law, to ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national

origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The rulemaking should take into account the need for hospitals to restrict visitation in medically appropriate circumstances as well as the clinical decisions that medical professionals make about a patient’s care or treatment.

2. Ensure that all hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid are in full compliance with regulations, codified at 42 CFR 482.13 and 42 CFR 489.102(a), promulgated to guarantee that all patients’ advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected, and that patients’ representatives otherwise have the right to make informed decisions regarding patients’ care. Additionally, I request that you issue new guidelines, pursuant to your authority under 42 U.S.C. 1395cc and other relevant provisions of law, and provide technical assistance on how hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid can best comply with the regulations and take any additional appropriate measures to fully enforce the regulations.

3. Provide additional recommendations to me, within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, on actions the Department of Health and Human Services can take to address hospital visitation, medical decision making, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

You are hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

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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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