This is the seventh in a series of articles to help you understand what you do know, don’t know and should know about estate planning.
I had planned to end my series of columns by making the point that not just any attorney can handle estate planning for same-sex couples. However, I was worried that topic might sound self-serving. Yes, you do need to be thoughtful about selecting an attorney for this job. Same-sex couples have a range of issues that may not be familiar to some attorneys. We often have complicated past relationships and difficult family dynamics that a typical attorney may not understand. However, that is not the message that I want to leave you with.
Instead, the events of November should make it crystal clear that having any type of estate planning documents in place continues to be critical for same-sex couples. We are facing an uncertain future legal climate, especially for those folks who live in Virginia. I don’t mean to suggest that I think marriage will be overturned, but Virginia is the only one of our local jurisdictions that obtained marriage as a result of a court decision. Rather, I think this new uncertainty serves to highlight the message that I’ve given to friends, colleagues and clients over the years. That is, that the world changes at warp speed in ways that are frequently unpredictable. The person that you thought would make a great choice on your medical power of attorney may turn out to be the one who never visited you in the hospital after your surgery. The nephew that you named backup on your financial power of attorney? He just filed for bankruptcy. The parent that you are so concerned about just confided how they had voted for the candidate that promises to appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn marriage, including your own.
More than ever we need solid wills, healthcare powers of attorney and financial powers of attorney. If you have a partner but you’re not married, having all of these documents in place and perhaps others is beyond critical. In neither Virginia nor Maryland do domestic partners have any rights to inherit from a deceased partner in the absence of proper documents. (In the District, the answer may be different.)
The single most shocking fact that I have learned in all my years of doing estate planning work is the number of couples that live in a home that is only owned by one of them. That remains the ultimate nightmare that can be avoided through careful planning.
I hope that you have been paying attention to my earlier columns in this series. They dealt with many of the issues about estate planning that people get dramatically wrong. If you’d like a copy of any of those, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This column is not intended to provide legal advice, but only general guidance that may or may not be applicable to your specific situation.)
Larry Jacobs has helped hundreds of same-sex couples and LGBT singles in the Washington area protect their assets and loved ones through partnership planning. He is a partner at McMillan Metro, P.C. and has practiced law for more than 41 years. He is admitted to the bar in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Learn more at PartnerPlanning.com.