Compliments of Our Law Firm,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
In the past, many same-sex couples never focused on estate planning or even financial planning because they felt it was moot. The ways around those impossible and unfair laws were successful for some couples, in some states, and in some instances. This meant many died intestate, or, without a will. There was a certain sadness – an injustice – in these cases because it meant there was no memorialization of the lives many same-sex couples built for themselves. They were left with the reality of losing their loved one and then, adding insult to injury, they often also lost their assets, including their homes, to the deceased partner’s family, depending on any particular state’s intestacy laws.
Now, though, married same-sex couples are seeing for themselves the legal benefits that opposite sex couples have always had.
For instance, Social Security benefits are now available for same-sex married couples, including collecting Social Security retirement or disability benefits from a spouse’s earnings. Another benefit is found in estate planning. Even in the case of intestacy, married same-sex couples no longer risk losing their assets to their deceased spouse’s family of origin. Your estate planning lawyer can ensure you and your spouse avoid intestacy, but they can also show you other tax saving options that provide further protection for the surviving spouse.
One crucial aspect of estate planning is the power of attorney. These documents allow a spouse to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of the spouse who is incapacitated. Being married does not automatically result in such power. Powers of attorney are legal documents that are part of a complete estate plan. For example, if you have a bank account that is in your name only, an accident or illness does not put your spouse into the position of overseeing that account. Only the power of attorney would allow decision making rights to transfer to whomever is named in the document. A living will or healthcare directive is used to ensure your spouse or other person you designate can consent to medical treatments for you. These are important because when a same-sex person is medically incapacitated, there are often disagreements between the patient’s family and the person’s partner. Those disagreements or arguments are moot when a proper healthcare directive is in place.
As same-sex married couples are beginning to settle in with the many advantages the Supreme Court’s ruling provides, it’s important not to assume it’s all magically “fixed.” A meeting with a qualified estate planning attorney ensures you are taking advantage of all of the rights that had been denied in the past.