Life and Estate Planning for the LGBT Community
Our Lawyers Help Same-Sex Couples and LGBT Individuals in NJ and PA
At Bratton Scott, we know that regardless of your sexual orientation, your interest in protecting and providing for your partner and family is important – now and after you die. The laws regarding same-sex marriage are changing and shifting throughout the country. Estate planning for members of the LGBT community carries its own set of complexities. Our attorneys have the skills and experience necessary to protect you and your loved ones for generations to come.
We invite members of the LGBT communities throughout South Jersey, Philadelphia and Ft. Lauderdale to contact us for a consultation to discuss the issues most applicable to your situation and prepare estate documents to care for loved ones.
LGBT Couples May Face Challenges without an Estate Plan
New Jersey recognizes same-sex marriages. However Pennsylvania allow for same-sex marriages or civil unions, nor do they currently recognize such relationships formed in other states. In these cases, an estate plan is crucial to ensuring that your assets and property make it into the hands of your partner and/or children, as opposed to the “hands” of the state.
Drafting a Will
By drafting a will you can determine what happens to your assets and possessions after your death. You can also choose the person who will control distribution of those assets. For straight and LGBT couples in New Jersey, that person is usually your spouse. For LGBT couples in Pennsylvania, however, same-sex, unmarried partners are not considered “next of kin,” and, therefore, have no legal authority to make these decisions on your behalf. Having a will in place will give them the legal authority to carry out your wishes.
However, same-sex couples are not protected by the same rights as traditional couples. This means that without a will in place, your wishes may be at risk. In Pennsylvania, financial transfers to spouses are inheritance tax-free; transfers to partners are taxed at 15 percent. In New Jersey, if there is no marriage in place, there will be an inheritance tax at a rate of 15 to 16 percent. We can assist you in navigating these convoluted tax laws.
Powers of Attorney
Unless your assets are titled jointly, you and your partner cannot exercise control over each other’s assets, whether you’re legally married or not. A General Durable Power of Attorney can authorize your partner to conduct transactions with your assets to your benefit. Similarly, if you execute a Healthcare Power of Attorney, you can appoint your partner as your agent to make decisions for your care and obtain information about your condition should you become incapacitated.
When signed by partners in a committed relationship, a Cohabitation Agreement attempts to establish some of the rights and obligations that married couples are entitled to automatically. This document can identify the owner of property, and address issues such as who pays the bills and who is responsible for maintenance. The agreement can also deal with the consequences of future separation. Cohabitation Agreements allow couples to clarify their expectations and protect their assets and rights.
Pennsylvania currently allows single LGBT men and women, and same-sex couples, to adopt a child. Second-parent adoption allows one partner in a same-sex relationship to adopt the legal child (biological or adopted) of his or her partner. Among other things, second-parent adoption creates a right to custody if the biological parent dies, becomes incapacitated, or the couple separates.
If a relationship ends, an ex-partner may obtain legal custody (including visitation) of his or her partner’s child, even if he or she did not legally adopt that child. Initially, the ex-partner has to prove a special “parent-like” relationship to the child. Pennsylvania courts have awarded physical custody to a non-biological partner, and have awarded partial physical custody and visitation in same-sex relationships that have ended.
Helping the LGBT Community Plan for the Future
Regardless of sexual orientation, a couple can avoid numerous problems through proper estate planning. The attorneys at Bratton Scott help you and your partner establish a strong estate plan designed to protect your loved ones and your wishes well into the future. Our lawyers have extensive experience when it comes to:
- Living Trust – This can establish the client’s domestic partner as the trustee, i.e.: manager of the client’s affairs (if he or she so desires) if the client becomes incapacitated through illness or accident.
- Health Care Power of Attorney – This can give one partner control of healthcare decisions in case the other person becomes incapacitated.
- Distribution of Assets – A proper estate plan will ensure the client’s assets are distributed to whom he or she wants, when and how he or she desires.
- Surviving Minor Children – Proper estate planning assures that any surviving minor children are raised by the person designated in the plan.
- Special planning techniques – This includes the use of life insurance and lifetime giving, as well as trusts, may be used to protect assets from taxation.
Contact Bratton Scott for LGBT Estate Planning Advice
Though some states do not offer spousal benefits for LGBT couples, proper estate planning will ensure correct strategies are used to avoid penalties, extra taxation when possible, and the court and attorney costs of probate. Talk to the experienced LGBT estate planning attorneys at Bratton Scott. There are many tax savings structures and estate planning ideas we can explain and review with you and your partner. Helping LGBT couples in areas such as Cherry Hill, Princeton, Medford, Voorhees, Haddonfield, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and other areas.
Contact us online or call 856-857-6007 to schedule a consultation with an experienced lawyer at Bratton Scott. We have New Jersey offices in Haddonfield and Ewing, one in Philadelphia, PA. We represent clients in all neighboring locations.