The long-awaited legalization of same-sex marriage was a welcome victory for the LGBTQIA+ Community and their allies. Even so, it is still quite common in the LGBTQIA+ community to have a long-time partner but never marry. If you have been sharing your life with a significant other but are not legally married, it is imperative that your estate plan is in proper order to protect yourself and your loved ones in a crisis or after you pass.
Many are under the misconception that Massachusetts has common law marriage, when in fact it does not. If you and your partner are unwed and you die without a Will in place (called dying “intestate”), your partner will not inherit anything from you that is not held in a joint manner or left specifically to them as a beneficiary (such as life insurance or retirement account). You must have a Will, at minimum, to protect your partner’s inheritance (adding a Trust may be even better).
Having a Will to protect your loved ones’ inheritance is only one important piece of your estate plan. A Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy are just as important to have in place prior to a health crisis as a will is to have in place prior to death. If you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself, either from a decline in physical or mental health, the Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy name a responsible person or persons whom you trust to make financial and health care decisions for you.
Unfortunately, it is also common for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to be estranged from their family despite the upturn in public opinion. If the Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy documents are not in place, the Probate and Family Court in your county will appoint decision makers for you (Conservatorship for financial decisions and Guardianship for health care decisions). If you do not want your estranged family to be making these significant decisions for you, or even a stranger you’ve never met, these documents are imperative as the Probate Court and Family Court may not give priority of appointment to your partner that you are not married to, or your close but unrelated friend. Furthermore, these proceedings will cost thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.
Having an estate plan in effect prior to a health crisis or death is important no matter who you are. Protect yourself and the ones you love by calling an elder law or estate planning attorney today.