The Supreme Court’s ruling this summer gives same-sex married couple the same rights and protection as opposite sex couples as it relates to aspects of estate planning. By affirmatively recognizing the existence of a spouse or a surviving spouse in non-traditional families, protections that were once only afforded to opposite sex couples are now universal. The right to administer a deceased spouse’s estate, the right to an elective share, the right to an intestate share (if a spouse dies without a will), and the right to make certain healthcare decisions which were previously only bestowed in same-sex marriages, are now guaranteed to all married couples. Yet, the recognition of same-sex marriages should not be interpreted as an excuse to not prepare an estate plan.
Similar to the arguments that have always been made for the opposite sex couples, the arguments for same-sex couples to create and execute an estate plan are identical. Estate Planning involves the process of looking at all your assets, family make-up, and goals, and creating a comprehensive plan to address each of them in a way that results in the effective and efficient administration of your estate for the ultimate beneficiaries. While estate planning is most often thought of in terms of having a Last Will and Testament, it also encompasses the practice of preparing durable powers of attorney, healthcare directives, guardianship and hospital visitation letters. Let Sodoma Law’s Estate Planning Group work with you to create a personalized plan for your particular situation.
And while the recognition of same-sex marriages has created protections for married couples, not all same-sex partners want or intend to get married. In those situations, the importance of estate planning for same-sex and non-traditional families is as important as ever. For couples who aren’t yet married or don’t intend to get married, planning must be implemented to identify your goals and intentions for soon-to-be spouses, lifetime partners, and children. While the recognition of same-sex marriage does address certain parenting issues, the legal framework for those issues is not yet completely certain. There are thousands of Federal and State laws that currently only identify opposite sex spouses. While the legal implication of the Supreme Court ruling is clear, it is far from advisable for couples, married or not, to rely on the interpretation and application of these laws when the opportunity to proactively address the situation is available. And when children are involved, the repercussions can be even more dramatic if same-sex couples have not or do not intend to marry. In those situations, parents will be faced with the situation where perhaps only one is deemed to be the parent. Absent written guardianship documents, powers of attorney and other consensual agreements, families might still face the unfortunate prospect of being separated in the case of an emergency.
If you are in a non-traditional relationship, married or unmarried, protect yourself and your loved ones by taking the time to talk with our Estate Planning Group. You do have options, and we can help you structure a plan to serve all your needs.