Harvey, a Washington lawyer with the firm Bryan Cave, helps unmarried couples ensure that their partners and families will be provided for in the event of illness or death. When it comes to estate planning, Harvey recommends that gay families start by consulting a lawyer on three key issues:
- Power of attorney.
Assigning your partner a power of attorney for health care is relatively simple, says Harvey, but it can save you major migraines in the long run. Most hospitals allow only family members related by blood or marriage to visit patients in critical care. If your companion has a power of attorney, it guarantees admittance. It also gives him or her a voice when decisions have to be made about your care.
- The pros and cons of domestic partnership.
Many couples living in states that recognize domestic partners are eager to sign up, but Harvey cautions her clients to consider the potential pitfalls. While domestic partnerships often convey a variety of inheritance, employment and tax benefits, they are difficult to dissolve in some states. Disentangling yourself from a domestic partnership is often as complicated and expensive as traditional divorce, says Harvey, so don't treat it lightly.
- What happens to your legacy?
It is essential that each partner has a valid, up-to-date, signed and witnessed will. If you die without a will providing for your same-sex mate, the state determines what will happen to your money and property. "Generally, the surviving partner gets nothing," says Harvey. Consult a lawyer to draw up a will or a trust. Harvey highly recommends revocable trusts, because they offer privacy and are harder to challenge in court.
By Marshall Loeb
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