If you’re an unmarried partner in a LGBTQ+ couple, you know that if one partner becomes ill or passes away, the life you’ve worked to build together could be in jeopardy. California law doesn’t contain any default provisions that let unmarried partners inherit from each other unless they are registered domestic partners. Similarly, except for registered domestic partners, California law does not contain any default provisions that allow one unmarried partner to make medical or financial decisions for an incapacitated partner.
Fortunately, for those who are not married or have not become registered domistic partners, with a comprehensive and effective estate plan, you and your partner can leave your property to each other(or to anyone you choose), and designate each other to take over financial and medical decision making in case of debilitating illness or injury. Here’s an overview:
1. Inheritance. Your estate planning attorney can help you establish a plan to make sure your property goes to the people and organizations of your choosing, and in the manner you choose. You have a variety of options for accomplishing your estate planning goals, including:
- A Will
- A Revocable Living Trust
- Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship
- Pay on Death designations
- Beneficiary Designations for Life Insurance and Retirement/Investment Accounts
2. Control of Finances In Case of Disability. If you’re incapacitated to the point that you can no longer manage your own property or finances, who do you want to take charge of these things for you? If it’s your partner, then you’ll need a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. With this document, you can designate an agent to take over your financial affairs for you if you’re ever unable to handle this part of your life on your own. And this is true even if you have a Revocable Living Trust; your estate planning attorney can explain why.
3. Hospital Visitation and Healthcare Decision Making. With an Advance Health Care Directive, you can appoint your partner to make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the capacity to make informed decisions on your own. So, if you’re terminally ill and in the hospital, your partner can have access to you and your doctors, and he or she can speak on your behalf.
The nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 by the Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell case has gone a long way to advance the legal rights of same-sex couples who are legally married. However, for various reasons, some same sex couples, like some opposite sex couples, choose to enter into relationships without deciding to marry. While this is certainly a legal option, it can lead to seriouse problems if proactive planning efforts are not undertaken. Sifting alone through the maze of laws relating to disability and death planning can be daunting. The best solution is to work with an experienced and qualfied estate planning attorney who is sensitive to your situation and your needs.