Family & Relationships

Legal Information for Members of the LGBTQ Community

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Since we’ve entered the 21st century, the definition of a “traditional” family or lifestyle has changed dramatically. It’s an exciting evolution to watch unfold! Yet we also understand that navigating the legal matters associated with living as a member of the LGBTQ community could feel complicated, even daunting at times.

Below is an introduction to some of the issues you could be facing and helpful ways they can be resolved. Whether you’re single or married, a parent or not, keep these things in mind to ensure you’re taking advantage of all the options available to you.

Create a will and other estate planning documents.

While every state has “default laws” that distribute your property after death, the process will often take longer, cost more and create more stress for your family without a will. And if you don’t have a will, the state could end up naming your immediate family members as inheritors, even if they weren’t your intended recipients. By putting your wishes in writing, you’ll be better able to guarantee your estate ends up with the people you care about most.

Plan for your family.

There are hundreds of federal statutory provisions in which marital status determines what benefits, rights and privileges you may receive. From filing taxes to how your estate will be managed if you die without a will, marital status makes a difference in your legal and financial life. So be prepared for any situation you may end up facing with these tips.

  • Pre and postnuptial agreements serve to protect the assets and interests of both parties in the event of divorce or death. But it also provides a great opportunity for any soon-to-be married couple to have a serious, honest discussion about the handling of money, sticky issues such as debt and financial plans for the future. If you don't have a prenup, couples can still draft a postnuptial agreement before getting divorced to set boundaries around personal and marital assets or debts.
  • Some couples may choose a domestic partnership agreement over marriage. This agreement is similar to a prenup and specifies how all assets would be divided if the relationship ends or if one of the partners dies.

Change your gender marker.

If you’re looking to change your gender identifier, the process – and whether or not a change is allowed – will vary depending on what state you’re living in. Keep in mind that not every state allows for changes to identity document, and that laws are in constant flux. Check with a local attorney who’s familiar with your state’s requirements for up-to-date information.

Prepare healthcare and other directives.

Thinking about what could happen to your health, finances or loved ones if you become incapacitated isn’t something many of us like to dwell on. However, there are a lot of important decisions that could make things easier for your loved ones and ensure that your final wishes are followed.

  • With the introduction of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the 90s, rules were established that set out to protect patient rights while also ensuring that certain loved ones can also be made aware of protected health information. Under the Act, hospitals may share or disclose a patient’s health information with family – or any other person the patient identifies, while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the patient.
  • Decide who’ll make medical decisions with a health care power of attorney if you’re unable to make those decisions yourself – whether during a temporary event or a permanent illness or injury. Name who can access your medical records and health records so that person can make informed decisions.
  • In 2010, federal law changed to ensure that any hospital receiving public funding must allow equal privileges to all visitors – regardless of biological or legal relationship to the patient. Conversely, there may be someone you don’t want to see during an illness. A hospital visitation authorization will clearly state who is and who isn’t allowed to visit during your stay.
  • Planning ahead on funeral directives can be a generous gift on your part – a way to decrease stress when the people you care about are already feeling a heavy emotional toll. Another reason to plan is to ensure the event will reflect your wishes. You may know clearly what you want, and what you don't.

Update and review your beneficiaries.

These are the people who’ll receive insurance, annuity and retirement benefits. You name these people on the policy or contract and this designation always trumps what’s written in your will. It’s important to keep these updated, especially if you’ve gotten married, divorced or added children to your family.

Review how ownership is stated on bank accounts, securities and real estate.

While bank accounts and securities accounts can be passed to someone in your will or trust, they can also be set up so your intended recipients receive access to funds if you die or become incapacitated. Real estate laws vary greatly by state, so check with an experienced attorney to understand what’s appropriate for your situation.

Know your rights at work.

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that civil rights legislation from the 1960s also protects members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination because of their sex. Discrimination may still exist in some places, but there is now equal protection under the law for those seeking redress.

Ready to start getting your affairs in order? ARAG legal insurance can help you navigate the process with access to local, affordable attorneys. Learn more about these legal issues – and the risks and opportunities – possible for all families with this free guidebook from ARAG.

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