Arts & Entertainment
Cash mob steps in to offer hope
Loss of partner threatens loss of home, business
Originally printed 5/10/2012 (Issue 2019 - Between The Lines News)
"Gary kept telling me this would never happen to me. We've seen what our friends have gone through. Gary was constantly saying his family would never do this to me."
- Mark Dikowski, whose partner Gary Anders died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.
EASTPOINTE - Last Saturday a local cash mob event at Ariel's Enchanted Garden was meant to help the owner Mark Dikowski raise additional money to buy his own house back. It also drew attention to the issue of estate planning, which is often put on hold or overlooked by LGBT couples.
The independent floral shop was established 15 years ago by Dikowski with his life and business partner Gary Anders. In a relationship for 17 years, it was a good time for the couple to leave their Detroit property two years ago to settle into their dream home in Grosse Pointe with their dogs Aurora and Princess Tiger Lily. As a token of their commitment to each other, they photographed themselves in front of the sold sign after their realtor posted it on the front lawn. It was official.
"We were elated. Everything was coming together. Every domino was perfectly aligned," said Dikowski. But he was concerned about the fact that his name was kept off of crucial documents during the purchase process. As a sole proprietor, this was to avoid anyone coming after his personal assets if anything happened to the business.
"Gary was constantly reassuring me that everything will be fine," said Dikowski, who put his worries aside to move forward. He supervised the refurbishment of their English Tudor-style home while Anders continued to work as a certified public accountant and cared for his parents.
"His mother is in a nursing home and he would frequently stay the night to take care of his daddy who is wheelchair bound," said Dikowski. He remembers the conversation he had with Anders on the night of July 26, 2010. "I called him. He told me daddy's in bed. He was sitting on the couch reading the paper and eating a half gallon of ice cream, two of his favorite things to do to relax," he said.
That was the last time he would hear his partner's voice. At age 55, Anders died suddenly of a heart attack.
Although their families didn't acknowledged their relationship or fully approve of their lifestyle, Dikowski was permitted by Anders' brother to make funeral arrangements. Beyond that, Dikowski has endured a long and grueling legal battle. Because of estate issues and resistance from Anders' brother, Dikowski is being forced to buy his own house back and at this point will not benefit from Anders' life insurance policy.
"Gary kept telling me this would never happen to me. We've seen what our friends have gone through. Gary was constantly saying his family would never do this to me," he said. But his worst nightmare has come true and now Dikowski is trying to recover. "I lost the man I love. I lost support of mine and Gary's family and I almost lost our dream house," he said.
A handful of friends and volunteers stepped up to help Dikowski pull his life back together.
"This is a horrible example of the need for equality in non-traditional marriage. If Mark and Gary were legally married, this wouldn't be an issue," said Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority, who helped to organize and promote the event. "I'm happy with what we've done to support a local business owner and my friend going through a difficult time. The closer we can help Mark get to what the bank needs the better."
Gay couples need documentation
The general idea of the cash mob is to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus. The donation cup filled up quickly at Ariel's, known for a wide selection of lawn and garden art, Walt Disney classic art collection and collectibles, art glass, handmade tiles, and unique gifts. Local Detroit artist Tom Crimboli of TJ's Customs, Inc. (www.metalsculpturesbytcrimboli.com) displayed his work in support of Dikowski's efforts.
"Gary would have done the same for Mark. This story broke our hearts and we would do anything to help him. We support Mark 100 percent," said Renee Miller of Allen Park, who has known the couple for 12 years.
"Mark and Gary are the most caring and gentle people in the world," said Pat Bugay of Sterling Heights, another longtime friend. "It's just not fair what Mark has been through."
According to attorney Amanda Shelton of the Shelton and Deon Law Group (www.sheltondeonlawgroup.com), "It's very common for bad things to happen to gay and lesbian couples who don't have the right documents in place. We can't be married in our state, so the only protections we have are the ones we put in place."
Shelton discussed three to four critical documents that LGBT couples need once they have decided to commit to each other and want their loved one to receive their money and their things, among other benefits and protections. These documents, which cannot be completed post-mortem, are effective until revoked and can be amended if necessary.
First is the Medical Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation. "This document gives partners the ability to make all medical decisions for each other. This also allows your partner to visit you in the hospital," said Shelton. "And God forbid you should die, but this form gives your partner the ability to receive your body. It's a sad, unfortunate situation. It can be difficult, if not impossible, for gay and lesbian people to prepare for funeral and burial or cremation arrangements for their partner without this document so it's very important."
Second is the Financial Durable Power of Attorney. "This gives your partner the ability to act on your behalf financially. There are two ways this is typically done and this is an individualized decision. The document can be drafted so that it is effective on execution which means you're giving you're partner this power immediately. Or it can be specified that the power of attorney is effective on disability once you are certified incapacitated," said Shelton.
Third is the Will, a document that transfers a person's property at their death to a designated person.
"The Partnership Agreement is a good idea to have, but it has to be crafted carefully," said Shelton about the fourth document which serves to clarify the financial terms of the relationship and the disposition of areas of concern, such as joint property ownership and shared responsibilities. "Because of the 2004 marriage amendment, if this document is worded so that the court could compare the relationship to a marriage or any similar union, it can be deemed not enforceable."
Traditional estate planning vehicles can be cost prohibitive for some, but according to Shelton, if LGBT couples really want to cover their bases, they have to go the extra mile. "Start with an attorney who understands the intricacies of Michigan law as it applies to LGBT people. For all four documents, it costs between $1,500 and $3,000 depending on the work involved and how extensive the documents are."
Dikowski shares some advice for LGBT couples who may not know estate planning is an issue. "People don't hear these stories and the story never ends well if there is no protection for the other person if someone dies. If you love this person so much, you have to protect each other. A lot of people are very complacent in the fact that the laws are going to be changing in the next few years. Don't wait until they change. Drag each other to the lawyer's office and fill out the paperwork now."
Ariel's Enchanted Garden
23716 Gratiot Ave.
Eastpointe, MI 48021
- One Capitol Region Plans To Make Lansing Area 'Discrimination Free'
- Saginaw Equality Float Takes Second Place at Cinco De Mayo Parade
- Contact Theory Changes Minds, Hearts
- Outside The Safety Net
- Book-A-Palooza To Benefit Common Language
- Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter Announces Run
- Source: Former Michigan Congressman Mark Schauer Will Run For Governor