What happens if you were to die without having executed any estate planning documents at all? There are some crazy myths out there about how the federal government will seize all of your property if you die without a will or trust, a condition known as “intestacy” in the legal community. The reality is that no such thing is true. The assets of people who die intestate are distributed to their family members according to intestacy rules of succession.
If you are legally married and you die without an estate plan your spouse would assume ownership of community property. Along the same lines, if you are married and a medical condition renders you incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions your husband or wife would generally be asked to make these decisions in your behalf.
So the fact is that the rights of married people are protected by law. Yet, there can be challenges as the highly publicized case of Terry Schiavo demonstrates. For this reason if you are married you should take the initiative to consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure that the appropriate estate and incapacity planning documents are executed.
This being stated, gay couples have no protections at all under intestacy laws of succession. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for unmarried individuals who are engaged in domestic partnerships to have an estate plan in place.
And even if you live in a state where gay marriage is legal like it is here in Connecticut, or get married in a state where it is legal, there is no guarantee that the union will be recognized permanently. There are constantly legal challenges being presented, and as we have seen in California things can change. So even if you are legally married you still want to make sure that you protect your own interests and those of your partner by executing an intelligently conceived estate plan.
If you recognize the need to plan for the future but are unsure about where to begin, take the logical first step and arrange for a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney who has a background working with same-sex couples.