Getting Your Legal House In Order

Scales of Justice

Happy New Year, friends!

And with the start of the New Year, what better time than the start of 2011 to get your legal house in order?

We know it’s not the hottest topic but whether you are married, partnered, or single, there are a number of legal documents everyone should at least consider having in place.

With each of our new clients, there are a number of documents we discuss at the initial meeting (and it will be just a little different for every state).

Here are a few that you and yours ought to think about:

  1. A will. This is the big one. If your marriage (or domestic partnership) isn’t recognized where you are living at the time of your death, your property will go to someone else, not your spouse (partner).

  2. An Advanced Directive/Health Care Power of Attorney/Living Will. There’s just no excuse for not taking the time to make your wishes known about what you want to happen if you are able to be kept alive, but unable to make your wishes known. Similarly, if you want your same-sex spouse (partner) to make the decisions for you, you need to put it in writing.

  3. A Power of Attorney for Remains. As morbid as it may sound, if you want your partner to be able to make decisions about what happens with your bodily remains upon your death, it’s a good idea to execute a power of attorney for that purpose.

  4. HIPPA Authorization. If you want your spouse (partner) to be able to look at your health care records if you are unable to make that desire known, it’s a good idea to have a document that makes that desire known.

  5. Hospital Visitation Authorization. Who do you want to have priority to visit you in the hospital? There are too many stories about partners who were kept from their loved one’s side in their last moments. Don’t become one of those stories.

  6. Financial Power of Attorney. This document is not a must for everyone (it’s very powerful), but you may want to think about whether a financial power of attorney makes sense for you and your spouse (partner).
  7. Domestic Partnership/Living Together Agreement/Prenuptial Agreement. Really, if you are living together or thinking about living with the one you love, you should commit to paper your understanding about who owns what, who bought what, and who gets what if you separate. But there are a number of pitfalls in creating this kind of agreement, so be sure to work with someone with experience.

So as you start living up to your resolutions (cleaning up, trimming down, and making more time for family), we encourage you to make just one more: protect yourself and the people you love the most. Make a visit to your friendly-neighborhood lawyer and talk about what you would to happen if you couldn’t speak for yourself.

And remember, we welcome your questions and encourage you to ask them before your Big Day.

Legally Yours,

Heather & Emily

Heather McCabe and Emily Russell are family law practitioners who regularly serve the LGBT community in all kinds of legal affairs – from adoptions to dissolutions/divorces. McCabe has taught family law and legal writing and has been on the faculty at Georgetown Law, American University, and University of Baltimore. Russell worked as a lobbyist before coming to the law. Whether through document drafting, mediation, collaborative law, or litigation, McCabe and Russell are committed to the creation and security of the unique families they serve.