Maria emphasized the importance of careful planning and deliberate action during her recent Law4U Seminar on LGBT Parenting.
She urged attendees to not be an ostrich with its head stuck in the stand, doing nothing and hoping that their family will be all right. The legalization of gay marriage did not provide automatic parental rights for married same-sex couples with children. Some couples can't even get married. Maria pointed out that Ohio law was written with heterosexual couples and families in mind. In today's uncertain legal and social environment, LGBT parents must take action to protect their families.
So what can you do? What legal protections can you put into place to protect your family?
The most important step to take to protect your family is by going to court. Married couples with children can pursue a step-parent adoption in Probate Court. In a few Ohio counties, married couples can file a Petition to Establish Parentage of their children in Juvenile Court. Unmarried couples can petition the Juvenile Court for shared custody of their children.
You can also go to Probate Court to legally designate your partner and your partner's children as your "heirs at law." Your designated heirs will stand in the same place, legally, as "a legitimate child." That means your designated heir has the right to inherit from you after your death.
You must have the right legal documents in place to protect you, your partner, and your children. There are six documents you need in your estate plan: a Revocable Living Trust, Last Will and Testament, General Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Appointment of Representative for Funeral and/or Burial Arrangements.
In addition, authorizations and consents for your child's medical treatment, school and records are important, especially if you haven't established parental rights in Probate or Juvenile Court. You should nominate a Guardian and back-up Guardian for your children in your Will and Power of Attorney, and you can also execute a separate Nomination of Guardian form.
You should designate your spouse or partner as your primary beneficiary and your Revocable Living Trust as your secondary (or "contingent") beneficiary of your life insurance policies, retirement plans, and other assets.
If you and your partner used a known donor to conceive your child, court action will be more complicated for your family. You should consult with an experienced attorney to determine your best court of action.
Another important consideration to consider is the estate planning of other family members. Do your parents' and grandparents' Wills, Trusts, and/or beneficiary designations include your partner, your partner's children, and/or adopted children? Do their estate plans need to be modified to reflect your family dynamics?
Please call Maria today to develop a plan of action for your family. She has pursued parental and custodial rights for families in at least 10 counties in Ohio, and she would love to help you put the legal protections in place for your family!