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How to estate plan yourself into relative safety, even if you’re gay

The How-To Issue

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Despite recent achievements in the long march toward marriage equality, Florida has a double-layer of constitutional and statutory boundaries keeping same-sex couples from receiving any protections – especially in cases of emergency and death – under the law. But it’s not just gays who need to worry about their possessions and their rights; not all straight couples want to get married, after all. Death and hospitals bring out the worst in unfriendly family arrangements; this is a fact.

So, if you want to make some headway in making sure your life partner is taken care of, or your own wishes are carried out during unpredictable events, the best bet is obviously to engage an attorney. That will likely cost you upwards of $1,500 for the least amount of assets, but it will also assure you that you’ve filled in gaps a layman might have missed. You can, however, download forms from places like lawdepot.com for a fraction of that price and, through a notary, execute the forms likely to come in handy if trouble arises. The absolute most important to consider is a last will and testament, for obvious reasons. People live under the misconception that a will is institutionally executed through the courts and therefore easily enforceable; it isn’t. Basically, you keep that will in a safe-deposit box, and two weeks after the death of your partner you have to file it in county probate court. If you have significant real assets, and you fear that your will might be contested by hostile family members, you should, through an attorney, find the right sort of third-party trust to accommodate your needs. Really, you can’t be too careful.

Another thing you might what to consider is forming joint accounts that will stay out of probate, and, in the circumstance that you have retirement accounts, make sure that your partner is listed as the sole beneficiary. That money will never even have go through a court; it goes directly to the designated partner.

Rest assured that even with these protections, there are likely to be hassles (in addition to abject grief) that follow through the probate process, but the better prepared you are now, the less you’ll have to scream at the sky later.

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