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Estate Planning for Non-Traditional Families

Estate planning for traditional couples usually consists of having a Will, Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directive.

There are typically three types of couples that need planning significantly different from that of traditional couples:

1.Same Sex Couples
2.Couples where at least one party has children from a previous relationship; and
3.Couples who are in a long term hetero-sexual relationship but are not legally married.

For all non-traditional couples it is even more important to prepare Wills, Financial Powers of Attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directives. However, while the documents stay the same, the methodology is very different.

The laws for same sex couples vary widely by state, and the federal government does not recognized the validity of a same sex marriages or civil unions for tax purposes or for most other purposes. If one partner dies without a Will, in most states, the state intestacy law will not direct that the money goes to the surviving partner.

Since state law will usually not protect the rights of same sex couples, it is imperative for gay and lesbian couples to prepare a Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive. Additionally, trust and tax planning becomes even more important as does coordination of the couple’s other assets. This is particularly true if there are children involved.

Even in states where the law is favorable, same sex couples must plan to minimize the federal estate tax, as the unlimited marital deduction only applies to heterosexual couples. Planning must also be done to minimize state estate taxes and state inheritance taxes if the couple is thinking about moving to another jurisdiction.

For couples where at least one party has a child from a previous relationship, many of the traditional planning techniques do not work because the goal is not always to provide for the spouse first and then for the children. Special planning is needed to ensure that both the needs of the surviving spouse and children from the prior relationship are addressed. Legally, such couples are pretty much in the same boat as same sex couples unless they living a jurisdiction that has common law marriage. If no planning is done, the surviving partner gets completely cut out.

Ignoring the issue not only leads to litigation, but a more expensive estate administration process and higher taxes. If you are in a non-traditional relationship, we strongly recommend seeing a competent estate planning attorney in a jurisdiction near you to flush out all the issues that affect you.