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An estate planning primer for same-sex couples

There have been horror stories. Here’s one of them: A member of a longtime same-sex couple dies and his or her surviving partner seeks to settle the estate only to find that they have been shut out entirely. No inheritance, no nothing. Not even a place to live as the survivor’s name was not on the title of the house.

Same-sex couples must know the legal maneuverings regarding estate planning to ensure that they inherit what they rightfully deserve. Longtime companion or not, sometimes a surviving spouse may find that they must start their financial life all over again.

Such situations may happen for many reasons, including no will being created; hostility from family members who never approved of your lifestyle; or just lack of planning as to what may happen if one of you dies.

Follow these guidelines

Here are some estate planning tips that same-sex couples should be doing:

  • Discuss estate planning with your spouse or partner. What goals do you want to achieve? Do this now.
  • Create a will. This will ensure that your partner or spouse will inherit assets from the estate. If you had children from a previous relationship, but no will, your spouse or partner may stand to gain nothing as all of the money may go to the children.
  • Update the beneficiaries in your retirement plans: Periodically check the designated beneficiaries of 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts and life insurance accounts. Since the assets in these categories do not follow the directions of a will, naming the beneficiaries here is important.
  • Ensure that you have legal authority to care for your spouse or partner if that person becomes seriously ill. There have been situations where a partner in a same-sex relationship has been shut out from the medical and end-of-life decisions because they didn’t have the legal authority. Make sure that your partner or spouse is named health care power of attorney.
  • Clear up any guardianship matters: Often when same-sex couples have children, only one is legally recognized as the parent. This could lead to the other parent losing parental rights. You may solve this in your will by naming your partner as guardian, or also pursuing adoption proceedings.

If your spouse dies, you don’t want to find out that the locks have been changed on the home that the two of you had shared for decades. Or that you may not get many assets from the estate. Get organized, and take the necessary steps to create a solid estate plan.

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