I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and while most of my thoughts have been around my treatment and although I am optimistic about my recovery, I still want to take steps to make sure my partner and our 3-year-old daughter are protected in case anything should happen to me. I executed a Will that gives everything to my partner, but is there anything else to do?
-Hoping for the Best, While Preparing for the Worst
Thank you for your question, and I wish you the best in your recovery.
As for steps you can take to protect yourself and your family, I would definitely suggest that you sit down with your attorney to discuss the range of legal issues relevant to your situation. I don’t know what your legal marital status is, or which parental rights are in place with regard to your daughter, which substantially impacts these issues, but I will make a couple of suggestions.
Marriage, as we all know, gives us many important rights (and responsibilities) some of which include the right to visit our partners and get important medical information as well as inheritance rights, which include a variety of tax benefits to your family in the event that something happens to you.
Some of these rights would be extended to you on a state level if you are married (assuming your marriage is recognized) but unfortunately federal rights are still denied to all of us due to the federal DOMA laws (big shout out to President Obama for actively committing to repeal DOMA). Marriage is a personal decision that every couple must make, but regardless, I would suggest you ensure visitation rights by putting together a simple health care proxy that names your partner as the proxy for you and allows her priority rights to visit you and be involved in your medical treatment. While you are at it, you could also put in place a Medical Directive otherwise known as a Living Will, which gives her the authority to withhold certain types of treatment in a variety of situations if you so choose, so that if you become incapacitated your wishes will still be enforced (think of the Terry Schiavo case).
In addition, depending on what the legal status is as far as parental rights for your daughter it may be important to make sure your Will appoints your partner as the guardian of your child and also reflects your desire that she be awarded parental rights. Remember that a Will only has force after it is probated and there are a number of other issues. You should also discuss adoption, if that has not already been addressed.
Finally, I would point you to a couple of very helpful organizations. They are The National LGBT Cancer Network at cancer-network.org and the Mautner Project at mautnerproject.org.
Wishing you the best.
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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.