Any parent will tell you that raising children isn’t easy. The late-night feedings, public tantrums, and constant need for attention can leave even the most devoted mom or dad feeling exhausted. But for those of us in the LGBTQ community, simply becoming a parent can be just as challenging. Whether we try adoption, surrogacy, or other means, the process is likely to involve anxious waiting, many false starts, and difficult legal hurdles.
It’s natural then, that same-sex couples and other LGBTQ parents are especially grateful for their children and would do anything to protect them. This sense of devotion should include naming a suitable guardian to raise the child in case the parents are unexpectedly out of the picture.
The thought of having someone else raise your children may be difficult to bear. After all, no one else’s love could ever match your own. It is for this reason that every parent should give careful thought to who their child’s guardian should be. Here are some essential factors to consider.
The English author John Lyly once said, “Marriages are made in heaven and consummated on Earth.” Indeed, marriage has long been a two-sided coin. On the one side are the social and emotional aspects of the institution, the heavenly “joy and wonder” of marriage. On the other are the legal implications, the earthly rights and privileges the law grants to married couples.
After exchanging wedding bands, many couples assume that they have cemented their relationship with every benefit and privilege the law has to offer. Marriage does confer many essential rights—more than a thousand, by one count. But there are several legal protections a marriage license simply does not provide. As a consequence, couples who have tied the knot should take additional steps to ensure that they are prepared for the uncertainties of life, including the death or disability of a spouse.
Whether they are gay or straight, most couples assume that if one of them died, the surviving spouse would inherit everything left behind—the car, the house, the bank accounts, and any jewelry, furniture, or other personal property. That assumption would be wrong.
Of the things we’d rather not think about, death certainly tops the list. But whether you see the end of life in spiritual, practical, or philosophical terms, it’s something we all must confront eventually. In the words of one person’s living will, “Death is as much a reality as birth, growth, maturity, and old age—it is the one certainty.”
The unpleasantness of the topic can make planning for death easy to put off. In fact, the vast majority of Americans will leave this earth without ever having prepared a will. But when the reality of death is fast approaching, perhaps through a serious illness, we should seize the opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead.
Here are five things to consider doing:
Robert Burns famously said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Burns was an 18th century Scottish poet, but he could just as easily have been a modern Estates & Trusts attorney. Too often, this familiar saying applies to the estate of someone who has died.
Even if the person had a will, the final determination of who gets what might be dramatically different from what was expected. Why would this be? The simple fact is that a will can do only so much. It controls the assets that you own in your name alone and that do not name a beneficiary. These “probate assets,” as they are called, include things like a house, car, or bank account without a co-owner.
The problem is that for most of us, the bulk of our wealth resides in assets that do have a co-owner or beneficiary. Think joint bank accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts. Upon your death, these “non-probate assets” will transfer to the co-owner or named beneficiary—regardless of what your will might say.