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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unable To Marry

I read an article today explaining how Jennifer and her boyfriend live together but can’t get married.  Why?  Not for the reasons you may think.  According to the Current Population Survey released in September, Minnesota – and the nation – saw a dramatic increase in unmarried couples who live together.  The data shows an increase nationally from 6.7 million unmarried couples living together in 2009 to 7.5 million couples in 2010.  Why are so many more couples living together but not getting married?

According to today’s article, it’s the economy’s fault as more couples are moving in together to avoid paying for two households despite wanting to remain unmarried.  While this certainly saves money, remaining unmarried may expose the couples to other negative consequences.  These potential consequences vary depending upon whether a couple breaks up or stays together.

The article then quoted? Sheela Kennedy, a University of Minnesota demographer who studies cohabitation?, as saying that most unmarried couples living together will split up or get married within two years and only 14 percent are unmarried and living together five years later.

Living together does not grant you any rights with regard to each other.  So, if you move in with your loved one but decide not to – or can’t – get married, please be sure you protect yourselves by having a cohabitation agreement.  A cohabitation agreement is an understanding between two unmarried persons who live together concerning everything that relates to their individual assets.  These agreements offer protection for each person in the event of a breakup and grant the couple some of the same protections and rights given to married couples.  In Minnesota, a valid cohabitation agreement must be written and signed by both parties and is enforceable regardless of the sex of the parties.

Even if you remain together, you are not out of legal hot water.  Under Minnesota law, your partner does not have the ability to speak on your behalf for medical decisions, act on your behalf for financial matters or assist in making decisions in the event of your incapacity or death.  So, be sure that ?while you are happily living in unmarried bliss you have an up-to-date estate plan.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Your Guide to Non-Traditional Estate Planning-One Step at a Time

You’ve read in my recent posts why you need to plan your estate, you’ve talked to your partner, and you’re ready to go… you just aren’t sure how to get started.  This is understandable; estate planning can feel like an overwhelming endeavor when you’re presented with everything at once.  The trick to getting started with your planning is to take it one step at a time.

Write down your goals. You may have a number of different goals for your estate plan (this is especially true for gay, unmarried, or otherwise “unique” families); they can be anything from “name my partner as guardian of our children” to “ensure I have the right person making important decisions for me.” Knowing your goals from the outset will make all subsequent decisions much easier.

Make a list of the people you trust. Throughout your estate plan you’ll be nominating people to take over financial, healthcare, and guardianship responsibilities if something happens to you.  Have a rough list of people you would trust in these roles.  Begin with your initial goal and go from there.  For example, if your initial goal was guardianship of minors, make a list of people you would trust with the care your child, and move from there to financial decision-makers, etc.

Make a list of people you don’t trust. If you’re having trouble coming up with people for the list above, it sometimes helps to consider the people you would NOT want to be responsible for your child, your finances, or your healthcare.  Write down those people and work backward from there.  If your kids must be kept from crazy Uncle Joe at all costs, would your cousin Emily be an acceptable alternative, even if she does have a different parenting style?

Know your assets. Make a list of all your assets, their approximate values, and in whose name they are owned. (Non-traditional families often hold assets in the name of only one partner, and unfortunately you can’t simply add your partner’s name as a joint owner of the asset without incurring gift tax.) Having a clear list of this information will help your estate planner determine what kind of asset protection or inheritance plan you need. Assets include:

  • Your Home
  • Investment/Vacation Property
  • Bank Accounts
  • Savings/Investment Accounts
  • Retirement Accounts
  • Life Insurance
  • Family Owned Business
  • Etc.

Bring In the Professionals. Estate planning is a very technical process—especially when you’re trying to achieve the same goals traditionally married couples receive as a matter of course—and you’ll need professional help to cover all the bases.  The good news is that getting started is half the battle.  Once you have your goals, and you’ve called to make an appointment, I can help you take care of the rest.

It may look overwhelming at first, but even non-traditional estate planning is really just a series of small steps, each of which leads you to the achievement of your ultimate goal: Protecting and providing for your partner and family.  Now that you know it’s so easy… what are you waiting for?

Creative Commons License photo credit: mathplourde


Monday, October 4, 2010

Grow Up, Grow Old and Enter the Closet Together.

In concentrating on the ways in which LGBT families may protect themselves, I generally focus on young growing families.  But a recent article reminded me of the vulnerability of elderly gay people.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that there are approximately 1.4 to 3.8 million LGBT Americans over the age of 65.  While it may be true that LGBT persons have a large network of community on which to rely for support, generally this network will be close to the same age so may not offer much assistance.

Elderly LGBT people deserve to live out their twilight safely and openly.  Minnesota’s non-discrimination statute does not go far enough to protect its elderly LGBT population.  The non-discrimination statute should be amended to provide protections for seniors on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in insurance, housing and public accommodations.

Be sure you are protected when you are at your most vulnerable by having a power of attorney, health care directive and HIPAA waiver.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Non-Traditional Couples Don’t Have the Protections They Need–Planning Can Help

Who do you want at your bedside when you’re terminally ill–Your best friend of 20 years or the brother you haven’t spoken with in 20 years?  And who should inherit your home and the assets contained within it when you die—or your hard-earned retirement savings for that matter—your distant uncle, or your partner who has given up his or her income to stay home to raise the child you have together?

Minnesota does not formally recognize any relationship other than marriage and, as such, does not grant unmarried couples any legal protections.  I have spoken with numerous clients who believe that unmarried couples do have certain rights – hospital visitation or medical decisions – when it comes to their partners; but this is not true. Without the proper legal documents, unmarried couples do not have the right to make decisions for their loved one either during illness (with hospital care) or after death (with disposition of remains).  In fact, unmarried couples are not even entitled to notification of the death of their partner.

Although the law may not automatically recognize your partner as your “spouse”, there are legal steps you can take to ensure that your partner does get the same rights and benefits as a married spouse.

Executing an Advanced Health Care Directive would ensure that medical personnel recognize the authority of your trusted partner to make medical decisions for you. Some hospitals might not want to recognize a non-traditional partnership, but ALL of them recognize the role of a Health Care Agent.

Signing a HIPAA waiver means that your partner will not be kept in the dark regarding your medical status and other personal information hospitals keep confidential.

Creating a Will or Trust means you can nominate the person you want to act as executor of your estate upon your death, and who the beneficiaries of your property will be, regardless of whether you have a marriage license or not.

Executing a financial power of attorney gives your partner the power to make financial decisions if you are unable. This is especially important if you have mingled finances and have been making joint decisions for years already.

Updating your life-insurance and IRA or 401(k) beneficiary forms allow you to name your partner as the sole and primary beneficiary of these proceeds. And if you’re still concerned, creating an irrevocable life insurance trust or a retirement trust will provide further protection and peace of mind.

These documents are the bare minimum you need to achieve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your chosen representative will be able to speak for you, and inherit from you, in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

I understand non-traditional estate planning because I am a part of a non-traditional family. I understand how important it is to know that the right person will be by your side if anything happens, and that your partner and children will be taken care of when you are gone.  I can help you achieve the security and peace of mind that many traditionally married couples take for granted.  To learn more, please contact my office today.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Welcome To Unique Family Law

Welcome to Unique Family Law and thanks for reading my first blog post.  This post is a brief introduction to my firm and an explanation of what you can expect from this blog.  I represent unique families, from GLBT families to unmarried couples to blended families.  We each have unique needs that the traditional legal system was not designed to protect.

The legal landscape is fast-changing with regard to the laws that affect unmarried, GLBT or blended families from the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa to Minnesota’s innovative Transfer on Death Deed or Hennepin County’s newly established Co-Parent Court for unmarried parents.  Through this blog, I plan to cover new advancements as well as established law that touch on the lives of unique families by addressing such questions as:

Why do I need a will?

Is a trust really necessary?

Why do I need to have a HIPAA waiver if I have a health care directive?

What’s so bad about probate anyway?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cohabitation

Minnesota has a “Cohabitation Statute” (Minn. Stat. s. 513.075) stating that a contract between a man and a women who are living together out of wedlock may be enforced as it deals with property and financial issues so long as the contract is

  • In writing
  • Signed by the parties
  • The parties seek enforcement after the relationship ends.

If the parties fail to properly execute a written agreement, the courts may not hear any disputes related to any financial or property disputes that may arise out of a claim based on the fact that the parties lived together in a sexual relationship and out of wedlock. The statutes specifically address cohabitation agreements between opposite-sex couples.  So, what may a same-sex couple do to protect property and assets upon contemplation of moving in together?


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