When James Obergefell and John Arthur decided to get married, there was a palpable sense of urgency. John was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his prognosis wasn’t good. If they were going to exchange wedding bands before John died, they needed to act fast.
The year was 2013, and the U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages approved by the states. But their home state of Ohio had banned gay marriage almost a decade earlier. Despite the seriousness of John’s illness, they would have to travel to one of the few states where same-sex marriage was legal in order to get married.
They chose Maryland.
The traditional wedding service includes a prayer for the “gift and heritage of children.” Like many parts of the old ceremony, this lovely phrase may not apply to same-sex couples.
Just as we are unlikely to be “given away” by our parents or promise to “obey” our new spouse, we may exchange wedding bands with no thought of having children, whether by adoption, surrogacy, or other means. But for those of us who do have children, they are indeed a gift and heritage, and caring for them is nothing short of a sacred duty.
Organic baby food? Check. Piano lessons? Of course. Academic tutors, enriching vacations, and endless positive reinforcement? Check, check, and check.
As same-sex couples, we can perhaps be forgiven for parenting with such zeal. After all, for us acquiring children requires a level of determination that most straight couples have never contemplated. Our children mean so much to us, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine our lives without each other.
And yet we need to do just that.
Say the word legacy and what springs to mind? A stately home passed down through the generations? Or a trust fund that keeps a rich man’s descendants in gracious comfort? Or perhaps an endowment that promotes some noble cause?
Instead, think of the people you care about. What will you leave them? Your legacy might include the values you instilled in them, the memories you made together, or the worldly goods they inherit from you.
When it comes to the worldly goods, part of your legacy will be how much thought you put into planning your estate. Will it be a legacy of well-managed wealth and clear instructions or one of confusion and unkept promises? Regardless of the extent of your assets, having a well thought-out estate plan can save your loved ones time, money, and a lot of stress.
Caring for someone with special needs is both a burden and a privilege. The challenges can be all-consuming, but the rewards are often deeply gratifying. Few of us who don’t bear this burden can fully understand the level of commitment required.
For many caregivers, this commitment extends to remembering the disabled person in their wills. This is a commendable impulse, but it is important to proceed cautiously. Without proper planning, an inheritance left to someone on government assistance can lead to nothing short of disaster.