LGBTQ+ Estate Planning: The Unsexy Taboo You Need to Break Sooner Rather Than Later

Jason A. Michael

It’s an uncomfortable topic many of us would rather avoid, but making a plan for what should happen at the end of your life to protect your loved ones is one of the kindest gifts you can leave behind. You’ll benefit now, too, from the peace of mind of knowing that your affairs are in order.

Estate planning for older LGBTQ+ folks can be especially complicated, yet it is important and essential for making sure your wishes are carried out implicitly. And remember — estate planning is not just for the wealthy. Leaving behind a clear plan is beneficial for everyone.

The proper arrangements will ensure your affairs and end-of-life wishes are enacted, that the person of your choosing will be responsible for making medical decisions when you are no longer able to and that your final wishes are carried out precisely.

In short, making sure that your estate planning is in order is the responsible thing to do. It will save heartaches — and possible confusion — later. For queer people, estate planning can be especially critical, particularly if your next of kin or biological family does not support your sexual orientation and you fear they might try to co-opt your death and make final arrangements of their own choosing. Do not let that happen to you.

Attorney Howard H. Collens of Galloway and Collens, PLLC in Huntington Woods, a queer ally, recommends a few basics that cover key estate planning issues, including a durable power of attorney to address financial matters, a patient advocate designation to make clear who is authorized to make medical and end-of-life decisions, a stand-alone HIPAA release to describe who is able to learn about medical information and a last will and testament to direct the administration and distribution of assets after death.

Married same-sex couples enjoy many inherent legal benefits, but because marriage equality hinges on a 2015 Supreme Court change, some legal analysts fear this right is in jeopardy, much like Roe v. Wade, which established the right to abortion across the nation until the decision was overturned last year. “Through continued advocacy,” Collens said, “we are working to make certain that marriage equality is permanent. This topic underscores the need to stay active and vocal about important rights as well as keeping current about any upcoming changes in the law.”

On the subject of marriage, it’s important to remember that Michigan does not protect so-called “common law” marriage rights, which are granted in some states to couples who co-habitate for extended periods. It’s entirely possible — in fact, it happens frequently — that a biological family member can step in to make end-of-life decisions and receive money and other assets from the estate when there isn’t a will in place. “Having written planning that describes who is to make medical and end of life decisions can be accomplished by establishing a patient advocate designation,” Collens said. “We also can set up a funeral representative to clarify who has authority to direct burial and/or cremation.”

Finally, it’s critical to consider financial concerns like how accounts are titled (separately or jointly). For example, Collens notes, things can become quite complicated when couples share ownerships of assets like a house should their relationship come to an end. “Determine the need or benefit of a cohabitation agreement,” he advised. “Confirming that beneficiary designations are properly set up so that life insurance and retirement assets will pass to the intended beneficiary upon the death of the account holder and setting up contingent benefits are important tasks.”

It may be tempting to take advantage of free web-based estate planning resources, but Collens cautions against this approach. Making a mistake while setting up estate planning documents yourself can lead to complicated, expensive problems. Collens suggests working with an estate planning professional to ensure your unique situation is properly addressed.

Learn more about how you can get your estate in order at the LGBTQ Legal Resource center ( ).