June is LGBT pride month, and this year the need to raise the rainbow banner seems surprisingly urgent. Gone is the thrill of seeing the White House illuminated in the colors of the gay flag. Gone too is the administration that helped to expand the rights of same-sex couples and other members of the LGBT community.
In this unsettling climate, participating in Pride Day reaffirms our dignity, our equality, and our sense of community. It also reminds us—and those who oppose us—that we will meet new challenges with new resolve. For as long as necessary, the struggle toward equality will be taken on in our lifetimes and by succeeding generations.
As the writer and actor Bob Paris put it, “Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.”
Part of this obligation, and part of what it means to take pride in ourselves, is to provide for the next generation in whatever way we can. This can mean contributing to LGBT organizations, whether as donors or volunteers. It can mean raising awareness by telling our story at work, among our families, and in our communities. It can also mean looking after each other when we can no longer manage for ourselves, or when we make our final exit.
Anyone who survived the unique challenges of growing up gay or lesbian, or who lost friend after friend during the height of the AIDS crisis, can be excused for thinking in terms of the here and now. After a lifetime of perseverance, the need to prepare for our own decline and legacy may well have escaped our notice.
But like activism, this type of planning can be a matter of pride. We take pride in ourselves by ensuring that if the need arises, someone we trust will be able to manage our finances under a Power of Attorney. We take pride in ourselves by naming our spouse, partner, or close friend to manage our medical care under an Advance Directive. And we take pride in ourselves by preparing a Will that provides financially for the people we care about and the causes we believe in.
On a personal level, this kind of preparation, called “estate planning,” is part of our obligation to the next generation. It can be especially important to those of us in the LGBT community, where the bonds between family members may be more emotional than legal.
For example, you might want your former partner to manage your health care in case you ever lose capacity. Or you could want your spouse’s child from a prior relationship to inherit from you when you’re gone. In cases like these, preparing the legal documents to back up your wishes is absolutely essential. Having a will prepared is also your opportunity to say who should settle your estate and plan your funeral—important and sensitive matters that will arise at an emotionally difficult time.
Even for couples who are married, the rights the law provides go only so far. For example, although a married couple can make medical decisions for each other, taking charge of the other spouse’s finances during a period of incapacity requires a Power of Attorney. And when one spouse dies, the survivor is entitled to inherit only a fraction of the deceased spouse’s estate, unless there is a valid will that says otherwise.
In this month of pride, we should remember the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals who came before us by honoring their legacy and continuing their struggle. We should also take pride in our own legacy by preparing an estate plan to protect ourselves and the people who matter most to us.
Lee Carpenter is an Estates & Trusts attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. This article is intended to provide general information about legal topics and should not be construed as legal advice. For qualified legal counsel contact Lee Carpenter at Lee.Carpenter@saul.com or 410.332.8626.