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Updating your legal documents in the wake of Marriage Equality

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Updating your legal documents in the wake of Marriage Equality

legal documents marriage equality
With the legalization of gay marriage nationwide, you shouldn’t forget to update your legal documents. After all, in the wake of the US high court’s decision on marriage equality, LGBT couples need every basic legal protection they can get.

Legal documents for your estate planning

Estate planning is defined as “the act of preparing for the transfer of a person’s wealth and assets after his or her death. Assets, life insurance, pensions, real estate, cars, personal belongings, and debts are all part of one’s estate.”

According to Angela Giampolo of the website Legal Intelligencer, if you and your partner prepared estate planning documents before gay marriage was legalized, the firm you signed up with probably understood your unique needs and they likely drafted your documents knowing that you weren’t married.

However, there are many perks to being married. As such your “pre-marriage equality” estate plan may need a total overhaul.

Estate planning is important as it goes beyond just issuing a simple will. Wills are legal documents that express your intentions about your burial and your estate (your money and property) when you die.

However, a judge will be needed to order the transfer of money and property from your account to your beneficiary’s account. This procedure– called probate– also allows relatives or third parties to contest your will. Or a judge could misinterpret your wishes. Either way, this may take years to untangle.

Lastly, the probate fees can go as high as thousands of dollars. The will also doesn’t cover the problem of estate taxes.

Requisite legal documents that need updating

That’s why with marriage equality, you need to update your estate planning, starting with the definitions used in the documents to reflect your legal relationship. These range from ‘spouse,’ ‘husband and husband,’ or ‘wife and wife.’

Other important documents you need to consider for estate planning also include: your will; a durable power of attorney to allow someone to make financial decisions for you when you can’t; and a health care power of attorney that includes a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act waiver (this will allow someone to make health care decisions for you).

Furthermore, there’s a living will for your wishes if you’re at an end-stage medical condition, hospital visitation authorization (so that your spouse or chosen family can visit you in the hospital), an agent for disposition of remains (who can declare what you would like to happen with your remains when you die), and even a pet care directive.

The importance of legal documents wherever you go

Giampolo said it may be wise to have your documents laminated and in your possession. This way, when you need them, you can show them.

“Full equality does not equal full acceptance. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that you won’t face discrimination at a crucial moment. Imagine you’re driving to Key West, Florida, and you’re in an accident in Tennessee and the front-desk clerk asks for your marriage certificate or your spouse won’t be let in the hospital room,” she said.

“The moral of the story is even if you have these documents in place, your wishes could go disrespected, so imagine how vulnerable you are if you don’t have them,” she added.

Aside from that, other legal documents you need to consider or update are: re-titling your property deed to “Tenants by the Entirety” (a special type of joint ownership of property with rights of survivorship only allowed between spouses) and considering a cohabitation agreement, a.k.a. a pre-prenup.

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