Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You Can't Take It with You. Why It's Never Too Soon to Get a Will and an Estate Plan

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You Can't Take It with You. Why It's Never Too Soon to Get a Will and an Estate Plan

Article excerpt

For gay men and lesbians, setting up a plan to divide their worldly assets once they kick the bucket ranks right up there with a trip to the dentist. But now's the time to sit down with a lawyer, regardless of your age, your relationship status, and the size of your checking account. Laws governing gay parenting and same-sex marriage are changing by the nanosecond in the United States.

"It's different but similar to planning for heterosexuals," says Boston-based estate lawyer Sheri Levitan. "If somebody dies without a will and the person who died had all sorts of assets in their sole name, the state statute gives a priority of certain family members who will inherit. If you don't want it to happen, you need to take care of having a will and having certain protections built into documents that may be important if your family is hostile to the relationship."

Levitan offers her checklist for gay men and lesbians who are planning to sit down with their own estate lawyer.

[] When one member of a straight married couple dies, the survivor gets plenty of tax breaks from states and the federal government, Gay couples should consider placing their assets in trusts to take advantage of federal and state tax exemptions when one partner dies.

[] Bank accounts, investment accounts, and deeds have documents that confirm "beneficiary designations and asset ownership." The term is a mouthful, but it basically means family members will have a tough time laying claim to assets that the deceased meant to go to his or her partner.

[] Address the division of property that is subject to a mortgage. If both people's names are on the loan, determine if the surviving partner becomes owner of the property and what happens if the relationship ends.

[] Consider living wills, health care proxies, and durable powers of attorney naming someone to make medical and financial decisions in the case of incapacity. Instructions for funeral and burial can also be included.

[] For assets that are jointly owned, a co-ownership agreement can determine who gets what assets if the relationship comes to a screeching halt.

"Many people in the community think they are too young, or they are single so they don't really need a will, or that they don't earn enough or own enough," says Julie Anderson, director of development for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. …

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