Estate Planning - A Gift to Those You Love

As 2020 draws to a merciful close, the season of giving that typically rounds out the year promises to be different. The festive gatherings we usually enjoy will be muted, if they happen at all. Video calls may substitute for the physical embrace of family and friends. And the exchange of gifts we all look forward to will likely take place through the likes of UPS rather than in person.

With so much less to plan for this year, many people are busying themselves by tackling overdue tasks. Homes are being spruced up, important papers are being organized, and missing socks are being paired with their long-lost partners.

What makes this year different, of course, is the global health emergency that makes the one thing we treasure most—human contact—unadvisable. It also makes us mindful of our own fragility and how much we value the time we have with the people closest to us.

One way to make use of this period of reflection is to plan for the unexpected in our own lives. Estate planning is a good place to start.

Four Ways To Prepare for the Unexpected

In this astonishing year, where reality is even stranger than fiction, it’s hard to know what will happen next. Economic insecurity, natural disasters, and political upheaval all fuel a sense of anxiety—especially among many of us in the LGBTQ community. And of course, these worries come in conjunction with concerns about our own health and the fear of COVID-19.

In this climate of uncertainty, the best steps we can take are to control the things we can, to be ready for what could happen, even if it can be hard for us to think about. Here are five things you can do to help you prepare for the unexpected:

1. Prepare an advance directive. This legal document enables you to name someone to manage your health care if you become unable to do so for yourself. The person you choose, called your “health care agent,” can work with your doctors to help ensure that you receive the best care possible.

An advance directive also allows you to choose the type of treatment you would like to receive in an end-of-life situation, like a terminal illness. Many people simply want to be kept comfortable when the end is near. Others choose interventions, such as artificial nourishment and hydration. Whatever your wishes, preparing an advance directive will enable you make them clear to your health care agent and your doctors.

Your advance directive can also say who should make your final arrangements when the time comes. This sensitive and important responsibility would typically fall to your next of kin. Many of us in the LGBTQ community would rather name someone close to us—a dear friend or important family—to take on this role. Your advance directive is the perfect document for naming the best person for the job.

Trans Health and Advance Medical Directives

In some ways, there has never been a better time to be trans. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an employee cannot be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, or transgender—a historic victory for the LGBTQ community. And a broad majority of Americans now support trans rights, enabling individuals to move ahead in politics, the professional world, and their own communities regardless of their gender identity.

But as any trans person will tell you, much remains to be done. Trans individuals are often targets of violence, and the legal protections that include sexual orientation often specifically exclude gender identity. Health insurance does not typically cover hormone therapy or gender-confirmation surgery. And when it comes to public accommodations, transgender people may encounter hostility despite civil rights laws that prohibit certain businesses from discriminating against their customers.

In this climate of uncertainty, it is important to do what you can to protect yourself from discrimination—to make sure your life is the best it can be, despite the world around you. From a legal standpoint, preparing an advance medical directive may be a surprisingly good place to start.

photo: will signing

Have you written a will that names someone to settle your estate? If something were to happen to you, do you know who would receive your assets? If you have children, have you appointed a guardian to look after them and a trustee to manage their inheritance?

If not, the commentary on your life could well include tales of confused intentions and mismanaged assets, of hurt feelings and squandered wealth. Fortunately, all it takes is a phone call to an estates and trusts attorney to make your epilogue your own.