Basically the way the law reads is, if you are married, you are entitled to all the same rights and privileges that every other married couple is entitled to, which means you can do a joint estate plan and you can file joint tax returns, although I am waiting to see how this all plays out. I have not had a lot of gay and lesbian married couples come to me who were not already clients, who want to change their current estate plans; one thing I note about gay and lesbian couples is that they seem to acquire more assets, whether it is because most do not have children or they are more committed to their financial situations than unmarried people, but those in relationships seem to have a lot more assets.
It seems to be a little more complicated, and many still want separate trusts, whether it is because society has put that on them, but they want to go ahead and do a combined estate plan now that they are married and do things like marital property agreements that straight clients do. I am waiting to see how this whole thing plays out; I have not read too much from the so-called “legal experts” as to how this will affect the gay and lesbian community in terms of estate planning. In reality, it is so early in the process and so many things are still getting worked out in light of the Supreme Court decision, that most gay and lesbian couples are taking a wait and see approach to estate planning right now.
I am not exactly sure how that is all going to play out, I have not heard much from my gay and lesbian clients, other than that they are really happy now that they are married and everything is great. I have not heard much about changing things, so I think this will be something that will develop over time.
Do Single People Need an Estate Plan?
If you are a single person and you have a house, investments, bank accounts and other assets and you do not have an estate plan, then your closest relative will receive your assets whether you like it or not. If you are okay with how that will go, then by all means do not do an estate plan. My attitude is that everyone has an estate, everyone needs to plan their estate no matter the size, the scope, or the location of their assets, and if they do not plan for it, the state will do it for you.
How Does Someone Begin To Set Up An Estate Plan?
The first place people should start with estate planning is to just go in and meet with a competent attorney who will do an evaluation of their assets, their family structure and their goals. Once that is done the attorney can properly lead the client through the process. I have a relatively short questionnaire that everyone fills out, that asks basic questions that I need to ask in the planning meeting, so that I can have an intelligent discussion with the clients about what they want to do.
I ask about who they want to leave their assets to, how they feel about life support, how they feel about organ donations, who they want to make medical decisions for them, whether they want burial or cremation and what to do with their remains, as well as all the obvious things, like who will be the guardians of their children and how and when they want the children to receive the assets.
That is really the starting point. So many people try to do this on their own now, but that actually creates more work for me. I constantly meet with consumers who tried to do all their own stuff and things did not work out as planned, and they are coming to me to fix it. That is why I think people should start out with a competent attorney who is organized and knows what they are doing and who can lead people through the process properly.
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