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You can't take it with you. Why it's never too soon to get a will and an estate plan.

For gay men and lesbians, setting up a plan to divide their worldly assets once they kick the bucket ranks right up there with a trip to the dentist. But now's the time to sit down with a lawyer, regardless of your age, your relationship status, and the size of your checking account. Laws governing gay parenting and same-sex marriage are changing by the nanosecond in the United States.

"It's different but similar to planning for heterosexuals," says Boston-based estate lawyer Sheri Levitan. "If somebody dies without a will and the person who died had all sorts of assets in their sole name, the state statute gives a priority of certain family members who will inherit. If you don't want it to happen, you need to take care of having a will and having certain protections built into documents that may be important if your family is hostile to the relationship."

Levitan offers her checklist for gay men and lesbians who are planning to sit down with their own estate lawyer.

[] When one member of a straight married couple dies, the survivor gets plenty of tax breaks from states and the federal government, Gay couples should consider placing their assets in trusts to take advantage of federal and state tax exemptions when one partner dies.

[] Bank accounts, investment accounts, and deeds have documents that confirm "beneficiary designations and asset ownership." The term is a mouthful, but it basically means family members will have a tough time laying claim to assets that the deceased meant to go to his or her partner.

[] Address the division of property that is subject to a mortgage. If both people's names are on the loan, determine if the surviving partner becomes owner of the property and what happens if the relationship ends.

[] Consider living wills, health care proxies, and durable powers of attorney naming someone to make medical and financial decisions in the case of incapacity. Instructions for funeral and burial can also be included.

[] For assets that are jointly owned, a co-ownership agreement can determine who gets what assets if the relationship comes to a screeching halt.

"Many people in the community think they are too young, or they are single so they don't really need a will, or that they don't earn enough or own enough," says Julie Anderson, director of development for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "It's still important to prepare so that the people one cares about are both taken care of and not left with handling what to do with someone's belongings."

What about giving away some money away, especially to gay rights groups? It's a crucial part of any estate plan for gay men and lesbians, especially with the same-sex marriage issue on the front burner and the 2004 presidential election looming. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD are among the groups that have seen an increase in giving, which had been hit by September 11 and the ensuing economic downturn.

GLAAD's revenues jumped to $7.1 million in 2003 from $6.2 million in 2002. Some of the recent contributions have been major, such as a $500,000 pledge this year from the Michael Palm Foundation and a $1 million gift over four years from Omaha resident Terry Watanabe, announced in 2002. Tim Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center received two seven-figure contributions in 2003 and noted the infusion was critical due to the California budget crisis.

"Organizations are becoming more visible, and people are feeling philanthropic again with a little upswing in the economy and are choosing organizations that are actually providing tangible results," says Charles Robbins, director of development for NGLTF.

The Task Force recently received a call out of the blue from a gay couple in Connecticut who were in the process of revising their wills. With assets of more than $1 million, the men wanted to ensure that their money would be spent on programs they support. "It makes sense to sit down and have a conversation with the organization to make sure they can accept the gift on the conditions the client wants," says Levitan. Estate planners also advise their clients to keep in mind that donations to certain organizations with a political mission or lobbying capacity are not tax-deductible.

Certified financial planner Debra Neiman said gays and lesbians should also consider donations while they are still alive. "You get tax benefits when you make a donation."

Hernandez is a Los Angeles--based journalist.
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Title Annotation:MOney Talks
Author:Hernandez, Greg
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 30, 2004
Words:750
Previous Article:A gay old divorce: want the full rights of marriage? Get ready for the full cost of divorce: from $1,000 to $100,000 to ... well, the sky's the limit.
Next Article:Coming on The L Word.
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