FAMILY LIFE: Glossary of legal terms

Posted on 28 Jul 2011 at 2:49pm

Attorney Rebecca Covell says that to secure the same rights a legally married couple gets with a marriage license, there are six documents same-sex couples need: a medical power of attorney, a statutory durable power of attorney, a declaration of guardianship, a directive to physicians, an appointment of agent to control disposition of remains and a will.

Here are a few basic definitions of those documents, according to Covell:

• Medical power of attorney: This document allows a person to designate an individual who will have the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unconscious, mentally incompetent or otherwise unable to make such decisions.

• Declaration of Guardianship: This designates who gets control over the future guardianship of a couple’s children.

• Statutory durable power of attorney: This documents allows a person to give their partner permission to make business decisions in the event that they are incapable, including decisions on buying or selling property, paying bills, handling insurance and dealing with the IRS.

• Directive to physicians: This document allows a person with a terminal illness or other irreversible medical condition to detail their wishes on end-of-life care.

Appointment of agent to control disposition of remains: Legally, after death, a person’s body belongs to their legally recognized next of kin. This document allows a person to designate the person who they want to make funeral or memorial arrangements and decisions about the care of their body.

• Will: When a person dies without a will, all their property and possessions automatically go to their legal next of kin. With a will, an individual can designate their beneficiary, who is in charge of their estate, make special for provisions for surviving children or a survivor with special needs. A will also allows an individual to designate when specific people will receive specific assets.

Attorneys Christopher Farish and Julie Quaid say that it is imperative that same-sex couples prepare for the future in terms of their finances. In addition to having a will, it is also important for those in same-sex relationships to list their partner as a beneficiary in 401K, IRA and pension if an employer allows same-sex partners to be eligible for spousal benefits.

Make sure to check with company policies on these matters, in advance, the attorneys said.

Here are a few basic definitions of these documents, according to Farish and Quaid:

• 401K: This allows an employee to place money in an account for retirement. The employee can name the beneficiary with 401K plans, regardless of sex or marital status.

• IRA: An IRA, or individual retirement account, is money set aside that has already been taxed. These plans are designed for people who don’t have access to a 401K plan and so are less structured than a 401K. Whereas a 401K plan is provided by a person’s employer, an IRA is something indviduals own. An individual can designate their same-sex partner as the beneficiary of their IRA.

• Pensions: Pensions are regulated, and most of those are available only to a person’s legal surviving spouse. Pension plans, however, are specific to individual companies, and policies are not consistent from one employers to the next. Employers’ pension plan regulations may say specifically say “spouse,” and some may have policies that exclude a same-sex partner as a beneficiary because Texas has a constitutional amendment prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

— Draconis von Trapp

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments