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Thursday, November 10, 2016

2016 Election Analysis for LGBT Issues


Many of my LGBT clients have reached out to me in a panic wondering how the election of Donald Trump will impact their families, benefits, marriages, and other legal issues.  My advice….breathe, try to relax and let’s take a look at what the election MAY mean in the future.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is the future of the Supreme Court.    There is one vacancy that will now be filled by President-elect Trump.
Read more . . .


Monday, September 21, 2015

Food for Thought - Legal Punch

Food for Thought – Legal Punch

Every now and then, I need to stop and remind everyone about the perils of forgetting to create a Will or a Trust. Sometimes I meet people who say “Who cares about a Will? I’ll be gone! It won’t hurt me!”. I also know lots of people who nod their heads and say “Oh yes, I know I need a Will and I’m really, really going to do it…soon”. Folks who pass away or become seriously ill without estate plans are practically guaranteeing that lawyers will earn hefty fees to clean up the mess. Put some legal punch into your life, and prevent troubles and woes.

Here are some real-life examples of what can happen:

Out in the Cold
Bob and Stu were life partners who never registered or married. They were comfortable in their 24 year relationship. When Stu suddenly passed away, Bob was left with a major problem – Stu never created a Will or Trust. Stu’s two adult children, Laura and Willy, filed a probate petition, and the court appointed Laura as administrator of the estate. The house was in Stu’s name, and Laura decided to sell it to get cash, so it could be divided equally between the siblings, who were Stu’s legal heirs. In spite of living there and sharing expenses for all those years, Bob got nothing and had to move out. The only asset he could claim was Bob and Stu’s joint checking account with $1,516.32 in it.

Under the law, Bob was nothing more than a stranger to Stu. Friends and other relatives were shocked. Bob and Stu cared deeply for each other, and Stu would never have wanted Bob put out in the cold like that. Stu was always certain that Bob would be provided for by the children, but he never did anything to make sure that would happen. Now Stu is gone (and it’s true - he isn’t hurting), but Bob will suffer for the rest of his life. Will your children or other heirs actually do what you want when you’re gone? Only if you put some legal punch into those hopes and wishes.

War Story
Sharon and Jeff’s mother recently passed away without a Will or Trust. Because mom had been in poor health for some time, Sharon held a power of attorney to handle her mother’s financial and health care matters during the last year of her life. When mom died, Sharon transferred her checking account to a new bank and took most of the funds from mom’s sizeable savings account to invest in some stock that her boyfriend thought was a “terrific deal”.

After a month or two, Jeff began worrying about how he was going to get his share of the estate. He checked with a lawyer, who told him that a probate needed to be opened in court, and an administrator appointed to pay bills, distribute the assets to the heirs, and then close out the estate. Sharon had no authority to touch the money. Her power of attorney expired when mom died. Sharon was frantic. The stock was going south, and she could be in a lot of trouble.

Jeff petitioned the court to be appointed as administrator. Sharon petitioned the court to be appointed administrator. They battled it out in a series of hearings over many months until the court finally determined that Sharon was unfit to serve because of her unauthorized use of estate assets. Jeff is now the administrator, but the assets are, unfortunately, half of what they used to be. Can you always trust a sibling or other heir to know the law and do what’s right? Only if you put some legal punch into the mix.

Man’s Best Friend
Waldo, age 65, was pleased with his simple life. He had enough money to be comfortable, and he loved his best friend, Tonto, a Cockapoo. One day, Waldo suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. It was clear that Waldo’s memory and speech were seriously affected, and he would likely be incapacitated for a long period.
Waldo’s nearest relatives, a nephew and his wife, came 2 days later to see if they could help. They found a key for the house and went to check on things. Poor Tonto was there, unfed, un-walked and frantic.

The relatives had no place to keep the dog, and no access to Waldo’s checking account to pay someone for its care. They decided to take the dog to the local shelter for adoption. Several weeks passed and Waldo was recuperating in a nursing facility. As his speech and memory improved, his first questions were about Tonto. Was he all right? Who was feeding him? Was it the right food? Could Tonto come to see him?

You know the rest of the story. If only Waldo had planned ahead for incapacity – something that a majority of us will experience some time in our lives – he would have authorized someone to handle his financial and personal affairs, providing a safe haven for Tonto, and assuring his best friend would be at his side as he took his long journey back to the comfort of his home. Have you planned for your possible incapacity? Please put some legal punch into your pet’s future.





Monday, August 31, 2015

Travel Forecast - Crossing the Line into a No-Comfort Zone

Travel Forecast - Crossing the Line into a No-Comfort Zone

Crossing state lines and international borders is something millions of us do every day. As long as we pack what we need, have our maps, GPS, and our tickets or gas in the car, we are pretty much ready for anything when we hit the road. But for the LGBT community, travel requires careful planning and an extra layer of protection. Both the journey and the destination determine our level of comfort on the trip. Using same-sex marriage equality and other non-discrimination laws as a guide, here are some of the things you should consider when you decide to travel for business or pleasure, or move to a new location:

U.S.A. - Currently, 37 states and Washington DC recognize same-sex marriage and/or registered domestic partnerships. If you are married or registered partners, you are likely to be treated fairly in these states, and especially in the larger cities. Smaller towns may still be catching up, and there are pockets of resistance in some states. Some businesses have invented a “religious exemption” excuse for not serving LGBT people. They claim that discrimination against homosexuals is permitted (and even required) by their religious beliefs.

For the states that have a ban against or don’t recognize same-sex marriage, there will soon be a resolution to our quest for equality. The Supreme Court of the United States is considering whether such marriages are constitutionally protected in every state, and their decision is expected sometime in June. But even if they decide in favor, there will be states and areas that will delay our civil rights in every way they can think of. We are unlikely to feel comfortable in many of those places.

So the U.S. is a checkerboard of states that may or may not be welcoming to LGBT travelers. When planning a trip, check where you have to pass through to get to your destination, and what you can expect when you get there. Look at the same-sex marriage record, and state or city laws regarding fair housing, employment, safety of LGBT youth, and HIV care and prevention. These are indicators of the comfort level of your stay in those communities.

Canada and Mexico - Our nearest neighbors are two sides of a coin. Canada permits same-sex marriage and has long had laws in place regarding other types of LGBT discrimination. Mexico is on the move toward equality. Mexico City permitted same-sex marriages several years ago, and court rulings since then have found that a ban on such marriages in many other areas of the country is unconstitutional. However, the rulings do not always give blanket permission to marry. They are sometimes limited only to the people bringing the suit. Progress toward equality in Mexico will likely take some time. And many other areas of discrimination have yet to be addressed.

Elsewhere in the World - A total of 18 countries have legalized same-sex marriage. 13 countries in Western Europe, 3 in South America, and New Zealand and South Africa now permit and recognize such marriages. A few other countries recognize same-sex civil unions, including Ireland, which may soon become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote. Some of these also have fair employment, housing and other non-discrimination rules. It is likely that all of these countries will be welcoming to LGBT individuals and couples.

At least 80 countries or entities around the world criminalize homosexual behavior, with 5 countries imposing the death penalty for such offenses. Most of the countries are in Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia. Others, such as Russia, have repressive laws against homosexual propaganda. When you cross the borders into these areas, you have entered the no-comfort zone. Plan your itinerary carefully, and be super-aware of your actions and speech that might run afoul of the local laws.

Pack That Extra Layer of Protection – Wherever You Go

You need these to insure wellbeing at home, and especially when traveling:

- Advance Health Care and Medical Care Directive: A detailed, notarized statement appointing agents to decide for you how your medical care will be handled if you are unable to make your own decisions. You will decide what kind of medical treatment you do or don’t want to keep you alive, manage pain or provide other care at end of life. There are issues of resuscitation, tube feeding, organ and tissue donation, and other critical matters.

Single travelers especially need this document, since there is no-one with them to provide information. Same-sex couples, married or not, will likely find that, even in comfortable locations, one partner or spouse may have little legal standing to make decisions as an agent for the other. It needs to be in a legal document.

- Emergency Medical Card: A card that allows medical professionals access to
your document. You are unlikely to carry your Directive on your person everywhere you go. There are several organizations that store it electronically for you, and they provide a credit-card size emergency card that instructs medical personnel to call or email to retrieve it, 24/7, from anywhere in the world. It also identifies the people you have named as your agents, and how to reach them. Carry this card in your wallet or pocket everywhere you go.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Can You Predict the Future? A Good Life Plan Needs Good Estate Planning

Can You Predict the Future? A Good Life Plan Needs Good Estate Planning

Most of us like to bring some order and predictability to our lives by planning ahead. We think about where we are now, and where we would like to be. We figure out how to get there, and how to avoid as many pitfalls along the way as we can. Moving through life, we accumulate things - our possessions, our estate – which are integrated into our lives. As an estate planning attorney, it is my job to help everyone plan for the care of their possessions as they move through life now, and after they die.

Here are a few of the issues that should make you think and do something about estate planning:

Do you have a live-in partner and you aren’t married or registered?

The 2013 U.S. Census Bureau Survey listed around 107,000 California same-sex couples living together. Of these, about 37% were spouses, and the rest were not. In California, community property rules mean that possessions (assets), and what happens to them, are clearly defined for spouses, but not for others. Although you and your partner may have a long-term relationship, your possessions can become a serious issue if you drift apart, become ill, or die. A plan for the care and keeping of your assets is essential to avoid the pitfalls that can upset your lives. If you have a car, bank account, savings or retirement funds, or a home, you have assets to plan for. What will happen to them if something happens to you or your partner?

Do you have children?

Many in the LGBT community have children from a previous or current relationship. If they are minors (under age 18 in California), they are usually under the legal control of one or both parents. But what happens if a parent becomes incapacitated or dies? That is where planning is essential to the child’s welfare. Care of children can’t be transferred to just anyone. A legal guardian will be required, and if there are no other plans in place, the state will appoint one and maintain jurisdiction until the children reach adulthood. It is always possible that the guardian will not be one that the parent would choose. Planning ahead can make the process predictable and greatly reduce the stress on the children.

Do you own a home?

If you own or are buying a house, it is an asset that is part of your estate. What will happen to that house if you become incapacitated or die? It all depends on how the property is titled on the deed. If you own it alone, you can create a Will that gives the house to a partner, a spouse, or another person if you die. The Will must be probated in court, and it may take a year or more to actually transfer the property to the beneficiary. As a better option, you can create a Trust, and transfer the property into the name of the Trust. Your Trust names who will manage the property if you become incapacitated, and who will inherit the property when you die. The Trust does not need to be probated in court.

What if you own the house jointly with a partner, and you aren’t married? There are several serious problems with this strategy. What happens if one of you becomes incapacitated and you need to sell the house? A joint tenant has no right to act alone on any house issues. What happens if one of you has a tax problem, or is in an accident, and a lien is placed on the house? What is the tax bite if your partner dies and you now own the whole house? There are much better ways of holding title to property, and a little planning will avoid lots of pitfalls.

Are you covered for illness or incapacity?

I am not a medical professional, so my concern with these issues is not about your health care plan, but with the plan for care of your possessions when something happens to you. And I say “when” very seriously. As our population ages, a majority of us will, at some point, require assisted living, long-term care or hospice. What happens to your estate when you can no longer manage it? Who will pay your bills, keep up your house or sell it, make sure your finances are in order? If you have a Will, it won’t help at all. A Will is effective only when you die. If you are a single person, or partners who are unmarried or registered, you need to plan very carefully for your own protection.

A Durable Power of Attorney will provide for a personal agent of your choosing to handle financial matters for you. An Advance Health Care Directive will give your instructions to your agent for handling medical and end-of-life issues with the medical professionals who care for you. A Trust will provide the instructions for handling all of your affairs when you are incapacitated, and after you die.

I have never been able to predict the future, so good estate planning is the very best I can do to help you keep your life plans on track.






Wednesday, June 10, 2015

All About Joint Tenancy - Are You and Your Partner at Risk?

Should your home, bank accounts or other property be held in joint tenancy with your partner or other family member? Many people comment to me that they don’t need an estate planning attorney because they own all their property as Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship. If they die, the property will automatically belong to the other joint tenant. No need for a Will or a Trust. No need for Probate. No need for an attorney’s services. 

Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. There are numerous pitfalls in joint tenancy: 

         *   Joint property is exposed to the liabilities of either or both owners. If one

              owner gets a judgment against him or her, the entire property may be taken         

              to satisfy that judgment. If one is a doctor, lawyer or sole proprietor of a business

              in a highly litigious field, or if one is found at fault in an accident, or if one owner

              has a tax lien placed against the property, this may be the worst way to hold title.

          *  Joint owners lose individual control over the property. For example, with real

              property, one owner has no right to act alone in selling, making improvements,

              or refinancing the property.

          *  If one joint owner becomes mentally incapacitated, the property is in legal limbo.

              The owner can no longer convey legal title or sign ownership papers. This can

              prevent property such as a home from being sold or rented. It usually requires

              the healthy owner to go through a lengthy and expensive conservatorship

              process in Probate Court.

          *  When property passes to another owner through joint tenancy, that property

              is left outright, meaning there are no strings attached. The danger is that the

              surviving owner can then leave that asset to his new partner, or anyone else he

             chooses, and the first owner’s share of the estate never makes it to his own

             heirs. The last owner to die wins everything.

         *  When the first owner doesn’t do any estate planning, usually the second owner

             doesn’t either. Although probate may be avoided at the first one’s death, it will

             not be avoided upon the second owner’s death. In the event of simultaneous

             death, all assets held in joint tenancy must go through probate since both owners

             of record are no longer living.

         *  Even if the joint tenants do have Wills or Trusts, the surviving partner will receive

             the deceased joint tenant’s interest in the property, regardless of what that

             owner’s Will or Trust says. Wills and Trusts have no control over jointly owned

             property.

          *  Finally, transferring property into joint tenancy may have tax consequences. If

              you place another person on your bank account or a deed as a joint tenant, you

              have just given that person a gift. If the value is less than your annual gift

              exemption of $14,000.00, there may be no problem. If it exceeds that figure, you

              must file a gift tax return with the IRS. You may or may not owe taxes on the gift,

              depending upon your financial situation.

 

I hope you will give the joint tenancy risks careful consideration before you try to use it as a do-it-yourself estate planning tool. For very small estates such as those having only moderate sums in a bank account and no real property, joint tenancy can work to avoid probate and smooth the transition when a joint owner passes on. For most other estates, there are various planning tools that reduce or eliminate the risks of joint tenancy, and make far more sense.

Careful estate planning and correct property titling are especially important for same-sex couples. For partners who are not married or registered as domestic partners, it is essential to maintain as much individual control over property as possible. Couples can own homes together; have joint and individual bank and investment accounts; and own other property that they share equally, without the pitfalls of joint tenancy.

Many of my clients are same-sex couples who own various assets together. Often, we find that individual Revocable Living Trusts are the best way to maintain their property and allow each partner maximum flexibility and control over their shares. Each one creates the necessary documents to control how assets will be managed if incapacity or death should occur, and this allows each partner to pass his share on to whomever he names in the Trust. Each one has a plan that covers many of the risks in life, and gives partners greater peace of mind about the future.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Good News - Bad News: Challenging the Culture of Discrimination

The LGBT community in the U.S. has made huge gains in human rights and equality in the past few years. This brief scorecard highlights some of the major victories:

 

  • The federal government and 35 states plus Washington DC now recognize same-sex marriage

  • The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in U.S. Military service was repealed

  • Laws against bullying and harassing students now exist in 49 states, with at least 18 states and DC specifically addressing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories

  • The federal 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act specifically protects LGBT persons from violence

 

This is great news  -  these advances are awesome, and we are keeping the momentum, pushing on the legal front for marriage equality in all the remaining states, inclusion of LGBT categories in all anti-bullying laws and additional protection from hate crimes.

 

So where does that leave us with tolerance and equality for our LGBT community? Clearly, there is a lot of hard work ahead. How is it that a person in 2015, in the United States of America, can lose his or her job, or be disqualified from renting or buying a home, because of sexual orientation or gender identity?  How can it be that LGBTQ youth are discriminated against by school teachers and school boards simply because of their diversity? How can anyone justify continuing to criminalize HIV when we now understand the disease and how to prevent or minimize it?

 

Let’s take a look at these and other serious issues that still face us. They are the focus of individuals and organizations who hope to move us forward in this new year:

 

  • Two of the most basic human requirements – shelter and a job to earn a living  -  can be denied to people who aren’t straight. 29 states and many federal agencies have no laws giving equal rights in housing or employment to most LGBT persons.

  • Federal legislation to address employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity has been pending for years in Congress. The current version has been watered down, and may not be the best solution at this time. Its chances of passage are unknown for this coming year.

  • A majority of states who don’t specifically include LGBTQ youth in their anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws make it possible for a continuing culture of

    cruelty, intimidation and discrimination against this group. Such youth in schools are subject to verbal and physical abuse by other students, and sometimes by teachers and other officials as well. This leads to a high rate of truancy, dropping out of school, and a distressing suicide rate. Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBTQ youth.

  • It is estimated that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Forced out of their homes, with no family, friends or community support, they may enter into a foster care system which often perpetuates the harassment and victimization they faced at home or in school. Or they are forced to rely on minor crimes or sex for survival, and eventually end up in the juvenile justice system, which again offers little but discrimination and abuse.

  • Domestic violence is, sadly, very common in the U.S., and most experts agree that it occurs just about equally in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. But not all states have laws or policies that provide equal protection and support for both straight and LGBT victims. And LGBT victims are much less likely to report abuse, call for assistance or receive help or support in the community. Fear of

    negative attitudes and discrimination by agencies and officials; fear of exposure or outing someone; and fear of making the LGBT community look bad are some of the reasons such victims fail to report abuse, and have a difficult time escaping violent relationships.

  • According to Lambda Legal, 39 states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges in the past 2 years. There were more than 80 prosecutions during that period. This organization and others are working to challenge convictions and reform existing HIV laws to reflect and support the current scientific knowledge of HIV, its prevention and treatment.

 

These serious issues, and many others, affect the daily lives of everyone in the LGBT community; and reflect faults in U.S. and state human rights policies that have no place in our country. Lack of tolerance and community support for any minority affects all of us. There is no positive value for our society when anyone perpetuates a culture of discrimination and harassment. It is our obligation to work toward equality in every part of our lives.

 

You can help by giving your voice, time and financial support to the many organizations that work hard for equality. Here are a few to consider:

 

Lambda Legal                                     Equality California  

Human Rights Campaign                    American Civil Liberties Union

     Southern Poverty Law Center             PFLAG

     GLAAD                                                The GLBT National Help Center  


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When Life Throws You Questions, You Need Answers

A new year is ahead of us, and some of these real-life questions and answers may help you make and keep resolutions that will pay off in the future:

 

Question:  Joanne and Marie are planning to marry in January. They know they need a marriage license from the county clerk. Is any other paperwork required before they can have their wedding ceremony?

 

Answer:  No other paperwork is required by the state or county, but there are several important issues that should be reviewed by the couple before they marry. When their status changes from single to married, many of their rights and responsibilities will change, too. Ownership of assets like a home, bank and investment accounts, and beneficiaries of retirement funds, insurance policies and annuities may need to change. There may be tax advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered. It is wise to sign a pre-marital agreement that spells out who owns what. This new chapter in their lives needs a rock-solid legal and financial footing. The marriage license is just a piece of paper – the icing on the cake.

 

Question:  U.S. citizens Sammy and Dejohn were live-in partners for 2 years, and decided to jump on the marriage bandwagon in Palm Springs last year. Everyone was doing it. Now, things are falling apart, and they are going their separate ways. Dejohn is moving back to his family’s original home in Jamaica, to settle down there near his relatives. Since Jamaica doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, is Sammy still married, in case he wants to marry someone else in the future?

 

Answer:  The two guys are still married under U.S. laws and those of many other countries. They should file for a dissolution and move on. Bigamy is never a good idea.

 

Question:  Calvin and Greg are in their 60’s and have lived together for 24 years.  Recently, Greg had a stroke, is developing some memory problems, and is not fully able to care for himself. Calvin is taking physical care of him, but Greg’s sister is handling his medical bills and personal paperwork. Recently, she brought over some papers, which she persuaded him to sign. Then she told Calvin that Greg had given her authority over all his finances, and she is going to make some major changes in his bank and investment accounts. Calvin is really concerned, because he and Greg have several joint accounts and own the house together. What should Calvin do?

 

Answer:  If this couple ever registered as domestic partners, or married each other, it is likely that Greg can’t give away spousal rights just by signing a paper. Also, Greg can’t sign over the joint ownership of the home and bank accounts.  However, in joint accounts, either owner is entitled to use of the whole account. Technically, if the sister is now Greg’s legal agent, she could take all the funds out of the bank accounts, leaving Calvin with nothing. Calvin should consult an attorney immediately, to find out what he  can do to protect his share of the assets. And definitely contact the local elder abuse authorities – it is possible the sister used undue influence to obtain control of Greg’s finances.

 

Question:  Wally and Susan’s mother was a smart lady, and she created a simple Will for herself on her computer. As assets, she listed her house and personal property, including 2 antique cars, some valuable art pieces and jewelry. Wally, Susan, nephew Randy, and 3 friends were listed as beneficiaries, with the items each would receive. She signed the Will, had it notarized, and put it away in her safe deposit box, where it was found when she passed on 12 years later.

 

Mother named Randy as executor in the Will, and as required, he petitioned the probate court to give him authority to manage her estate and distribute all her property. Everyone was shocked to learn that the Will wasn’t valid. California Wills require at least two disinterested witnesses, not a notarization. Aside from that, the list of assets was sorely out of date – in need of money, mother had disposed of many of the items over the years, including most of the personal property promised to her beneficiaries. And 2 of the 3 friends had passed away. The Will said nothing about what would happen to their bequests if they departed. And mother’s house now had a reverse mortgage, and no equity left in it at all. What more could go wrong?

 

Answer:  Wills must meet very specific requirements to be valid in California. In spite of her intelligence, mother made several critical mistakes: the most obvious were not knowing the legal requirements for a valid Will; not providing for what would happen if named beneficiaries passed away before she did; and not updating her Will regularly to keep the list of assets and property current. Now, Randy must ask the court to probate an “intestate” (without a Will) estate, and appoint him administrator to pay off debts and distribute any remaining assets to the statutory heirs, who, under California rules, are normally the next of kin. Wally and Susan are mother’s closest relatives. Randy is farther removed, so he and the remaining friend have no right to inherit anything.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Broken Relationships - Avoiding the Fallout

 

LGBT relationships run the gamut from simply living together (cohabitation) to marriage. Most couples form lasting unions, but there will be rifts in others that lead to a break-up, with the two individuals going their separate ways. Financial differences or problems are a common result of the failures, and disagreements can result in emotional crises, costly court cases, and judgments that neither party likes. A little careful planning can usually avoid most or all of the drama. Here are some of the things to consider:

 

Cohabitation

 

Many partners have been in long-term cohabitation relationships, because domestic partner registration or marriage weren’t available to them. For others, cohabiting is simply a casual, convenient and voluntary way to live together. They may not realize that there can be specific responsibilities the partners have under civil law. They may not be able to just walk away if they decide to separate.

 

Civil Court (as opposed to Family Court) handles disputes cohabiting partners might have over the terms of their relationship. Were promises made and not kept? A partner must prove a legal basis for a claim, such as an oral, written, express or implied contract. The Court will determine whether there was an enforceable contract, and if so, whether it has been breached by one or both of the parties. These lawsuits (popularly known as “palimony cases”) can be very expensive, take many years, and are difficult to win.

 

A Cohabitation Agreement is the best way to avoid financial disputes in the relationship. The partners identify their financial contributions to the relationship, and what they expect to take away from the relationship if they separate. If the partners don’t want a formal agreement (“It’s not romantic”; “We would never do anything to hurt each other”), then it is essential for each partner to maintain individual bank and investment accounts, not hold title to any assets in joint ownership, and not contribute any money toward the purchase of any asset (house, car, etc.) that is only in the name of the other partner. Never give up a job or other assets because a partner promises support, without a specific agreement in writing stating the promise and that the partner will not be left destitute if the relationship ends.

 

Marriage and Registered Domestic Partnerships (RDP’s)

 

In California, marriage and RDP’s are essentially identical. Under state law, spouses and registered partners have very clear and defined obligations to care for and support each other. They can’t just say goodbye and walk away if one of them has trouble with money, gets sick, or finds a new love-outside the union. If they want to end the union, they must file a petition for dissolution of marriage and/or RDP.

 

Family Court handles the dissolution process, and supervises all the steps that must be taken to ensure that the final judgment will be fair and equitable. The expense of dissolution and the emotional toll on spouses or partners is directly related to whether the couple can agree to an amicable split. Each must disclose detailed financial information to the other, including listing all assets and debts. If minor children are involved, there will be a comprehensive review of their current status and a determination will be made about the best plan for their future support and care. Pets, too, are often part of the picture, and their welfare must be carefully considered in a judgment. The dissolution process can take anywhere from a minimum of 6 months to a year or two, depending on how quickly the couple can reach agreement on all the terms.

 

Pre-marital or pre-RDP agreements are the best way to avoid future conflicts and disruption of personal lives when a marriage or RDP ends. Post-marital or post-RDP agreements may be created if the union has already taken place. Based on many of the dissolution cases we have handled, these agreements should be essential for any couple sincerely making a long-term commitment to each other. Couples can gain security or lose a fortune by choosing to enter or not to enter into such agreements.

 

Both Pre-marital/RDP and post-marital/RDP agreements must meet strict California legal requirements, including:

 

  • The agreement must be made voluntarily, and not under fraud, duress, or undue influence

  • Parties to the agreement must have legal capacity to enter into an agreement

  • The agreement may not be unconscionable

  • The agreement must not be against public policy

  • Full disclosure of each party’s assets, debts and financial details must be made

  • There must be independent legal counsel for each party, unless that right is

    properly waived in a separate writing (in our practice, both sides are always represented by independent counsel)

 

Every relationship faces an uncertain future. Agreements are roadmaps that make each relationship stronger and more secure. They provide clear understanding of each person’s financial status and obligations, and are the foundation for a couple’s future, no matter what happens.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage: Down the Primrose Path

It’s been a year since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The LGBT community is still rejoicing, and with great energy, is pushing ahead for equal rights in all the other aspects of our lives. 

 

What have I seen in my practice this year? Many committed same-sex couples getting married - some quietly, some with joyous celebrations, and a few with reckless and thoughtless abandon. Most have lots of questions about what the legal and financial effects of marriage will be. Those who have come to me for answers are eager to “do things right” and protect themselves and their future. Some who rush into marriage without thinking, or without understanding the consequences, may not make it into the future together.

 

Here are a few of the questions and issues I have worked with recently:

 

  1. If we marry, does everything we own become community property?

    That depends on how you own the property before you marry, and how you

    agree to acquire new property after you marry. Do you already have joint bank

    and investment accounts? Do you own your house as joint tenants? Do you

    share legal title on your car? It is likely that these will be considered community property once you marry. If you are Registered Domestic Partners, you are already subject to community property rules, and marriage will not change that.

 

  1. We own a checking account together, and furniture and things in the house, but we want to keep our investments and other property separate after we marry. I want to stay owner of our house. How can we do that?

    The very best way is to create a pre-marital agreement that clearly identifies each person’s separate property and the couple’s shared property. This agreement will also state who will own new property acquired by either or both after marriage. Both partners agree that all property will be covered under the agreement during the marriage. And if there should be a breakup in the future,

    there will be little or nothing to argue about when dividing up their assets and debts. A pre-marital agreement usually must be signed by both parties at least seven days before the date of marriage, so it is not something that can be put off until the last minute.

     

  2. We just want to be sure that once we are married there won’t be any problems with everyone recognizing that we are now legally responsible for each other.

    You will have your marriage license, if anyone asks. But in most states in the U.S., this will be meaningless. In spite of federal recognition of same-sex marriages, they are only legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia right now. In all the other states, lawsuits are pending, but will not be quickly resolved. If you travel to other countries, most do not recognize marriage equality at all, and some criminalize homosexual behavior of any kind.

     

    For legal protection, married and unmarried same-sex couples should have all the important documents that spell out the rights of partners and spouses to make personal and medical decisions in case of emergency, incapacity or death.

    At a minimum, there should be an Advance Health Care Directive, and a means to provide this immediately to medical and other professionals in an emergency.

     

    You may not want to carry the actual documents around with you all the time, so there are some excellent organizations that store them for you electronically, and can provide them 24/7, any day of the year. We provide this service to most of our clients.  You are issued an emergency access card, the size of a credit card, to carry in your pocket or wallet. It provides the information necessary to access your documents right away. This can give partners and spouses a solid legal foundation for their relationship, and peace of mind, no matter where in the world they might be.

 

  1. My old partner and I were Registered Domestic Partners (RDP) years ago, and then split up. Now I am going to marry my new partner. Will this be a problem?

    Unfortunately, yes. You are not free to marry a different person until your RDP is terminated. In nearly all cases, you are required to file for a dissolution (divorce), just as if you had been married. You must file a petition with the court, and go through the process of serving notice to your old partner, dividing up assets and debts, and agreeing to a settlement of your affairs that the court will find is fair for both of you. A dissolution can take anywhere from 6 to 8 months to a year or two, depending on the amount of cooperation between partners in getting all the paperwork filed, and any disagreement as to how to settle things.

     

 

 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cross Your Fingers and Fill in the Blanks

You’ve heard enough about estate planning from your family and friends. You’re finally convinced that you need to do something to protect yourself, your partner, your property. But, you say, “I’ll be darned if I’ll pay a high-priced attorney to fill out a few forms”. You saw an ad for a complete estate plan package for $995.00  -  just go on-line, down-load all the forms, fill them out and the job’s done. You don’t have to meet with an attorney, think about it, or even leave your home to do all the estate planning you need. 

Or you heard about a “document service” where a paralegal provides you with several forms, you fill them out, and she puts them in a nice, neat file folder for you. Cheap, over and done with.

And guess what? Your local office supply store sells pre-printed legal forms. Pick them up, fill in the blanks, and you’re good to go. Why not take advantage of these or other low-cost shortcuts to peace of mind? 

There are very strong reasons why most people should avoid these methods. Wills and Trusts require careful thought and sound legal advice. Tax planning is an important part of it, too. An estate plan isn’t just an assortment of forms and documents. It is a map for the future that considers all the aspects of your present life, requires decisions about what might happen to you and your family, and is crafted so the plan will continue to evolve as time goes by.

A recent court case illustrates one major hazard of do-it-yourself documents: 

A Florida lady filled out an “E-Z Legal Form” when she made out her Will. She wanted to leave all of her property to her sister, then to her brother, if her sister predeceased her. The sister did die first, and the brother claimed he was entitled to the entire estate. But the pre-printed Will stated that all “listed” items should go to the brother. Not all of the lady’s assets were listed. And the Will did not have a residuary clause (and not even any room on the form to add such a clause) providing for the disposition of property not listed in the document.

Two of the lady’s nieces (children of another brother, already deceased) brought action. After lengthy arguments on both sides, the court decided that the listed items must go to the brother, as the Will provided, but the unlisted assets must pass outside the Will, to the nieces, who were the next heirs in the line of succession.   Although it may have been the lady’s intent that her brother inherit all of her estate, the Will did not say so, and it did not provide any way for him to claim the unlisted items. Concurring Justice Barbara Pariente commented, “While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer, this case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound foolish.’”

Pre-printed forms can’t possibly include all the language needed to cover the wide range of possibilities and probabilities that are part of our everyday lives. There is no single Will, Trust, Power of Attorney or any other pre-printed form or pre-written format that can meet the needs of everyone. How would you know if some essential language is missing, or certain statements can cause problems, or your intent is not truly reflected in the document? How do you know what you don’t know?

Attorneys have studied the laws (and the court cases) and get to know you and all the details of your particular situation. They recognize the hazards and pitfalls of missing or incorrect language, and draft comprehensive documents that fit you like a glove. You are not a John Doe, and your estate plan shouldn’t be, either.

For those of us in the LGBT community, it is even more crucial that our plans cover the  unique family, health and property issues we face because we still lack equality under most state and some federal laws. A properly crafted estate plan gives us the visibility and legal standing that is so essential to protect our families and our assets. Our special needs require special planning.

There should be ads and articles in the newspaper and magazines cautioning people against using pre-printed legal forms. But attorneys often chuckle about this. They don’t plan to run any ads. They get a lot of business from clients who tried the do-it-yourself approach and found the documents unusable when they were needed. Folks who wanted to save a little money bought a lot grief for themselves or their families.

In the court case, the lady may have tried to save herself a few dollars by filling in the blanks, but in the end her estate had huge attorneys’ fees and two years of wasted time. The nieces, of course, were delighted with the E-Z Legal Form she used. They came out over $100,000 ahead. Definitely not the result the lady wanted.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Planning a Trip? Some Legal Tidbits for LGBT Safety

You have an itinerary, reserved your lodging, bought your plane ticket and shopped for new clothes. Are you ready to hit the road? No, not yet. You have homework to do. You aren’t really prepared to go until you learn about safe travel for people in the LGBT community. 

Gay rights issues can complicate our plans, whether we are travelling within the U.S. or to international destinations. Some states and countries have laws supporting LGBT equality, may recognize same-sex marriage or registered partnerships, and offer a relatively comfortable gay scene in which we can be pretty much ourselves. Some other states (especially in rural areas) and countries are much more conservative, don’t recognize gay relationships and may have little or no tolerance for physical shows of affection. Finally, in many areas of the world, laws and customs demonize and criminalize homosexuals. To be safe, exercise discretion wherever you are. 

You can find out about travel situations from local LGBT groups, or trusted and savvy travel agents or tour operators. They know the attitudes and issues of the country or city. Be especially careful if you intend to frequent cruising areas or internet chat rooms. Police in some countries have been known to carry out entrapment campaigns.

The often open and relaxed nature of gay scenes can mask criminal activity. Be wary of new-found “friends” who may simply be out to exploit you. Stay alert to the people and the area around you, and stay away from places that aren’t well lit or seem suspicious.  It makes sense to give your itinerary to a relative or friend, and to have a plan with your travel partner for possible emergency situations that could arise.

Check your health care coverage to see what medical care will be covered outside the U.S. Many policies provide for very limited or no services at all in other countries, and you may need a supplemental health insurance policy to provide coverage in case of a medical emergency. Make sure to have a copy of your Advance Health Care Directive with you.

In my practice, I encourage my clients to electronically store all their important documents in an account such as LegalVault or DocuBank. Your health care directive, personal medical information, Will or Trust, power of attorney, list of credit cards, copy of passport, and any other important documents are securely stored, and can be accessed via internet, wherever you are. An emergency card lists your personal agents to be contacted, and gives medical professionals immediate access to your health care directive 24/7, anywhere in the world.

Don’t use hotel or other public computers or Wi-Fi networks to access your personal or financial data. You have no way of knowing whether they are secure.

It is best not to bring debit cards on a trip, but if you must access cash at ATM’s, use ATM machines in bank lobbies rather than other locations. Banks are most likely to be secure, and usually have camera surveillance.

Don’t bring your checkbook, social security card, or more than two credit cards. Keep only your driver’s license and one credit card in your wallet, and keep the second credit card in the hotel safe (or in your luggage if on the road) in case your wallet is stolen.

Consider carrying a “sham” wallet with a few dollars and some old hotel key cards or other worthless plastic cards in it. If a thief targets you, hand over the sham wallet, and he is likely to run away thinking he made a big score. You will still have your regular wallet, which you should always keep in a buttoned shirt or pants pocket.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a valuable service of the U.S. Department of State, offering assistance in an emergency. You file your travel plans on-line, and then you can be contacted in case of a family or other emergency at home, or a crisis or change in safety level in the areas you are planning to travel to or through. 



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