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Friday, April 5, 2019

On the Go - LGBTQ Travel 2.0


Travel is refreshing and exciting, but can sometimes be risky. I wrote an article several years ago with some advice for LGBTQ people on the go. I’m looking again at the issues, and sadly, there has been little change in most of the problem areas of the world. Even more concerning, the change in the political atmosphere in the U.S.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Out of the Shadows - Sexual Harassment and Domestic Abuse


These are scary times as both women and men continue to come forward alleging serious sexual harassment incidents, many involving well-known celebrities. While all of this is at the forefront of the news and popular concern, a huge number of ordinary, everyday people suffer a wide range of harassment events, and we just don’t hear about them.

We allow so many frightening issues to remain hidden in dark shadows – violent events that cause injury in ways that can never be remedied. I’m thinking of domestic abuse – incidents that go far beyond sexual harassment of individuals in a social or business encounter. When violence becomes part of an intimate relationship, the result is often very serious lifelong physical or mental damage, and sometimes death.


Read more . . .


Friday, January 12, 2018

How to Survive a Divorce


The best of intentions just don’t work out, sometimes. The fantastic advance of legal same sex marriage was a euphoric event for so many in the LGBTQ community. Some who hadn’t quite thought it through were caught up in the excitement. Others were so committed to their long-time partnership they didn’t realize how marriage would change their relationship. And some, like many humans, just couldn’t stick out the legal and binding commitment.


Read more . . .


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Holiday Gifts That Keep Giving


We wrap holiday gifts in gleaming foil – contributions to our loved ones to celebrate the season. What did you choose for your partner or spouse? That slick little metal sculpture you found at the street fair? A gorgeous pinkie ring you discovered together in that West Hollywood back-alley jeweler’s? A cruise to the Bahamas to get out of Palm Springs’ or LA’s cruel winters? 

Let me suggest some more permanent and life changing gifts. These may not be as pretty as flashy, gift-wrapped boxes with fancy bows on top, but they will be with you and your loved ones in a much more dramatic way. You can share a gift with someone and both of you will be thrilled. 

Do you have a committed partner? Consider the gift of marriage! Huh, you say? What? Get out of here!  But think about it.


Read more . . .


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.

Read more . . .


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.


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