LGBTQ+ families should work with an online estate planning service or consult with an estate attorney to establish a clear line of inheritance, child guardianship, and decision-making power in the event that a partner passes away or is incapacitated. These wishes will be upheld even if current LGBTQ+ legal protections are revoked in the future.

I honestly didn’t think I was going to have to contemplate estate planning in my 20s. That’s something only millionaires need to worry about, and I’m far from earning that title. Right?

But recently, something happened that got me thinking: Roe v. Wade was overturned. Now it seems there’s a very real possibility that my marriage could be deemed null and void by the Supreme Court.

So, what would then happen to my husband if I wasn’t around anymore? What about the house? And our hoard of animals?

Bleak, I know. But this is simply a reality that many LGBTQ+ couples have to live with daily.

Fortunately, I know the steps we need to take to make up a plan for our family. And I’m hoping this piece can help other LGBTQ+ couples understand the urgency of creating an estate plan with their partner(s) and offer a few pointers on how to do so.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning involves accounting for your current and future assets and deciding what will happen to them when you pass away or are no longer capable of managing them. Most “traditional” estate planning requires the help of a professional advisor and potentially a lawyer as well.

The document you’ll most often hear about in an estate plan is your will. This is the document that determines where or to whom your belongings will go after you die. Additionally, a will can determine whom guardianship of your children would go to if they’re underage when you pass away.

Read more: Who needs a will?

Why is estate planning different for LGBTQ+ families?

Estate planning isn’t the most uplifting topic in personal finance, but it’s important for anyone who wants to ensure their loved ones are looked after. That said, for LGBTQ+ families, estate planning takes on greater significance.

LGBTQ+ families often need extra legal protections

Despite the passing of many legal protections in recent years, LGBTQ+ rights remain a debate rather than a guarantee, and there is a constant and legitimate concern that our newly acquired rights will be taken away. The recent Roe v. Wade overturning has led the way to yet another fight to allow states to stop recognizing same-sex marriage.

If same-sex marriage is overturned, it’s hard to currently predict where that will leave same-sex couples who are already married, and it could make life a lot more complicated for same-sex couples who want to get married. Marriage gives rights to the surviving spouse, like custody of children and a right to the financial or business assets owned by the deceased spouse. If what was once recognized as a legal marriage is suddenly deemed illegal, this could potentially leave the surviving spouse open to custody and/or asset disputes. 

But whether a marriage is seen as valid or not in the eyes of the law doesn’t matter as much if you have an estate plan, which is a legal and binding contract that should hold up even in the event that the Supreme Court overturns same-sex marriage. 

Parental rights are uncertain

Having a child when you’re in an LGBTQ+ relationship can be a complex matter, especially in the eyes of the law. While same-sex adoption became legal in all 50 states in 2017, there are plenty of documented cases of same-sex couples being denied adoptions, or at least being discriminated against during the adoption process. Even the American Bar Association recognizes that the legal adoption process is often discriminatory against LGBTQ+ couples.

For those LGBTQ+ couples who did successfully adopt children, it’s easy to see why there’s a fear that their family’s right to stay together could be in jeopardy. An estate plan, including a legal adoption record, should protect each spouse and their children in the event that there are any contestations over the legitimacy of their family. 

Legal confusion can also arise when it comes to trans birth parents. Often, trans men who give birth are still listed as the “mother” on their child’s birth certificate, which can cause legal issues down the road if that parent has their gender marker changed on all legal documents except the birth certificate. Estate planning ensures that all the legal documents are in place to accurately depict the identity and rights of each parent.   

Domestic partnerships and civil unions are underprotected

The right for LGBTQ+ couples to marry is still relatively new, so there are many families who pursued domestic partnerships or civil unions before it became legal to get married. Unfortunately, neither union offers the same legal protections as marriage.

One example, and the major reason an estate plan is so vital to those in domestic partnerships and civil unions, is that only marriage offers you the right to inherit your partner’s estate if they should die. Therefore, an estate plan is the only way to protect yourself if you and your partner choose not to get legally married. 

How to create your estate plan

Contact an estate attorney

The larger your estate, the more complicated estate planning can get. Large estates might consist of assets worth $75,000 or more, businesses, real estate, and any other high-value items that you need to know will go to the right home. This is especially true for families with multiple children and other family members that may want to inherit certain items. In these instances, working with a professional estate attorney is a must.

Word of mouth is a great way to find a professional estate attorney. Ask your friends and family if they know anyone. If not, you can search the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils database.

Online estate plans

For those who have a simpler estate — say, a home and smaller assets such as a car, but no large investments or businesses — there are online tools that provide legal documents at a very low price. You’ll mostly be on your own with these products, so if there is anything you don’t understand or you find that your assets are too complex to sort out yourself, you should turn to a trained professional.

That said, DIYing your estate plan is a major money-saver. One of the most well-known products for online estate planning is Trust & Will. As its name suggests, Trust & Will focuses on helping you legally put together and sign your trust and will documents as well as guardianship papers. For a will, you’ll have a starting price of $159, and guardianship papers start at just $39.

Read more: Everything you need to know about online trusts and wills

Documents you need in an estate plan

The specific documents you should execute will vary a bit depending on your family’s needs, but there are some general items required for all estate plans. These include:

Last will and testament

Your will dictates whom all of your belongings will go to once you pass away. This includes assets like a home, vehicles, investments, collectibles, patents, and more. Additionally, this will be where you name guardians of your children.

Financial power of attorney

This plan is for when you’re alive but, for whatever reason, you’re not capable of making your own financial decisions. You can assign someone the legal right to make all financial decisions for you, including those related to any businesses you own, your bills, debt, etc.

Medical power of attorney

Similar to your financial power of attorney, your estate plan should include who can make medical decisions for you in the event that you can’t make those decisions yourself.

Legal documents

Any important legal documents that you have should be included in your estate plan. This can include marriage documents, adoption paperwork, business licenses, etc.

Passwords to all online accounts

Much of our lives are online these days, so you’ll want to give your family any usernames and passwords associated with online banks, investment accounts, social media, etc.

Financial information

This includes bank accounts, insurance information for all policies, mortgages, loan documents, titles to vehicles, and any other financial information associated with your name.

Titles and deeds to all real estate

Real estate is likely one of the largest assets you own that will go to your family after you’re gone. The last thing you want your family to have to deal with is a lost title to your home or rental properties.

Funeral arrangements

You can decide while you’re alive what your funeral will look like. Any last wishes you may have should be outlined in your estate plan. Explain if you want to be buried and where, if you want to be cremated, what kind of funeral you want, and any supporting documents if you’ve already purchased a plot.

Who should have an estate plan?

All LGBTQ+ families with co-owned belongings

Any LGBTQ+ family, married or not, that co-runs a business or has expensive co-owned belongings should consider a basic estate plan. In the event that something happens to one member of the family, the rest of the members can be protected.

Families with children, especially adopted children

Children should be entitled to loving, caring, supportive families. But that doesn’t mean the kids of some LGBTQ+ families haven’t been denied this right.

Currently, all 50 states allow for same-sex adoption, but having the extra protection of an estate plan ensures that, if those laws should ever change, your will is carried out correctly and your partner(s) and children are protected legally.

Married LGBTQ+ couples

With the state of same-sex marriage in an uncertain limbo at the moment, I’d personally recommend that any married LGBTQ+ couples consider putting together an estate plan. Just as heterosexual couples need an estate plan that protects their family from having to deal with legal battles, so do LGBTQ+ couples.

Summary

Estate planning is an important process every family should go through. It protects your assets and children in the event of your passing, and can even provide benefits to you while you’re alive.

But given that our legal rights are often on the chopping block, estate planning should be an even higher priority for LGBTQ+ families. Having the extra protection may be the best legal way to ensure your family is taken care of should tragedy strike.

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About the author

Total Articles: 105
Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30, Investor Junkie, MoneyCrashers, and Time. You can find out more about Christopher on his website or via LinkedIn.