When you spend years establishing relationships and building assets, you recognize the clear advantages of implementing a plan. Like so many people in your situation, you choose to avoid the estate planning process. That avoidance response is common. It has nothing to do with age, sexual preferences, career choices, or marital status. Estate planning simply isn’t on anyone’s top ten list of their favorite things to do. It’s not necessarily a pleasant process, but as an LGBTQ single, couple, or family, it’s essential when you want control over certain aspects of your personal and financial future.
Why do You Need an Estate Planning Attorney?
Estate planning attorneys help you make tough decisions that you might not consider on your own. They guide you through a process that focuses on you, your family, your future, and your assets. They address the complications that often arise if you become sick or die without leaving written instructions. Attorneys help you address the legal issues that sometimes treat LGBTQ citizens in ways that differ from other families.
Attorneys provide the legal guidance you need to make lasting personal and financial decisions. They encourage you to consider potential life scenarios and help you make corresponding choices. They help you create a formal plan that focuses on your needs and preferences. Your attorney produces legally binding documents and directives to ensure that your intentions stand.
What Is the Purpose of Estate Planning?
Estate planning gives you access to a set of formal tools. Your attorney tailors them to address issues related to your partner, family, assets, finances, health, and mortality. It’s a thorough process that acknowledges your right to manage your own circumstances, even when you’re physically or mentally unable to do so. Planning ensures that your financial decisions remain in place, even after you’re gone.
When Do You Need an Estate Planning Attorney?
There is no specific age, personal milestone, or financial classification that signals when you’re ready for an estate planning consultation. Some people consider it a must when they marry, establish a new household, have or adopt children, retire, or receive an unanticipated windfall. Others don’t think about the future until a friend or family member must face a relative’s or partner’s complex medical issues or untimely death.
As you decide whether you should consult with an estate planning attorney, you must consider your present and your future. Estate planning addresses the fact that your wealth increases over time. It considers your investments, income, savings, retirement plans, personal belongings, life insurance, lawsuit proceeds, gifts bequeathed by others, and equity in your home. It manages the holdings and assets you might not consider important.
How does Estate Planning Protect Your Loved Ones?
Attorneys create a system that’s tailored specifically to protect and control the issues and assets you deem important.
Tax issues and other claims against your estate can diminish its value over time. Attorneys help prevent this by examining your assets and your financial risks and implementing the necessary protections.
- Asset transfers
- Irrevocable trusts
- Lifetime gifts
- Annuities and Life insurance
- Life insurance trusts
A will allows you to designate who receives your assets after your death. When properly prepared by your legal representative, a will provides critical details and directives that are unavailable in a boilerplate form.
- Conveys your instructions for asset distribution after your death.
- Addresses child custody, family, financial, funeral planning, and other issues where the law is silent on same-sex couples
A living trust allows you to assign a trustee who assumes your decision-making power. If you become mentally or physically incapacitated, the trustee takes control of your assets and makes decisions on your behalf. These trusts are revocable if you change your mind.
Healthcare or Medical Power of Attorney
When you execute a medical power of attorney, you appoint a trusted agent or surrogate to decide care issues on your behalf. A medical power of attorney provides the authority to direct your health care in compliance with your wishes and instructions.
Advanced Directives/Living Wills
When you’re young, you take your health for granted. Unfortunately, even young people succumb to devastating accidents and illnesses. Regardless of your age, you must have directives in place that provide instructions when you can’t speak for your self. A living will or health directive accomplishes this important goal by putting your care decisions in writing.
In completing your living will or health directive, you respond to a series of questions about resuscitation, extreme measures, and other care-related issues. Your responses dictate how a medical team will treat you during a health crisis.
What Happens When You Fail to Execute Estate Planning Documents
If you don’t meet your estate planning responsibilities before an unplanned incident occurs, you often lose the right to chose your desired outcomes. That’s particularly important for same-sex couples who chose to stay together but remain unmarried. New Jersey and Pennsylvania statutes don’t acknowledge same-sex couples unless they marry or formalize a domestic partnership.
When a medical incident occurs in New Jersey, the hospital or court may determine who has the right to speak on your behalf. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Public Welfare Statutes list those people with authority to speak for you when you have no named surrogate or guardian. If you are in an unmarried LGBTQ relationship, your partner may have standing as an “…An adult who has knowledge of the individual’s preferences and values…” That designation is one of the last on the list of alternatives.
If you die without a will, you are considered intestate. If you are a same-sex couple who is unmarried and not in a domestic partnership, you have no legal standing in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania statutes, Title 20, Chapter 21, Intestate succession, your spouse, domestic partner, children, and a long list of surviving relatives may ultimately share your estate proceeds. New Jersey Revised Statutes, contains similar provisions for intestate decedents.
When you fail to plan for tax measures or financial challenges that diminish your estate, it limits the assets that you intended to leave to your partner, family members, or friends.
Consult With An Estate Planning Attorney
It’s important to take steps to protect the life you’ve built. When you avoid planning your future, a single tragic moment can force you and your partner to relinquish control. Proper planning gives you the legal tools to prevent that from happening.