Faith Focus by Rev. Lacette Cross

Rev Lacette CrossIn an effort to broaden our reach and explore issues of concern of the LGBT communities, we are pleased to share the first of a series of articles by the Rev. Lacette Cross.

Our first addresses the role that faith can play in our lives. Rev. Cross, affectionately called “Rev. L.” is the pastor of Restoration Fellowship RVA and the founder of Will You Be Whole that carries discussions about sex and faith. Follow Rev. Cross on Facebook, Twitter (@lacettecross) and IG (@lacettecross)

If there are religious related issues that you would like for Rev. Cross to discuss, please let her know.

What Does Your Love Look Like?

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of…”  ~ What the World Needs Now Is Love, Hal David

We all know the words to this song. I’m sure you’re rocking side-to-side right now, humming the tune. It’s a catchy melody with a timeless message. There is always a need for live in our world. The question then becomes: what does love look like?

 To begin answering this question I think the most logical place to start is defining what love is. For many of us the immediate thought goes to the warm-fuzzy feelings of romantic love. We all know the butterflies and endless smiles. Most of us can recall the long several hour conversations that left our hearts fluttering. And yes, that is a type of love.

However, the love I think the song refers to and the kind we need in our world today is the strong emotion that undergirds and motivates good work in the world. It is both noun and verb. The intangible ideal that’s made real through our actions.

This love is what brings communities together. This love is what helps us be kind to others. This love is what pushes us outside of our comfort zones to help meet the needs of others. This love is what spurs on justice work in the world. This love is what changes minds, hearts and lives.

In the words of Mother Teresa: “Love in action is service.” So when you take a moment to think about love, consider these things. As you consider them I encourage you to take it a step further and talk with others about love. Ask them the question “What does your love look like?”  

I have faith that the more we do it, the more we courageously ask ourselves and others the challenging questions, the better we become as individuals and as a community.  Because “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Protect Your Family and Your Assets with Marital Agreements

Mollie Barton Web 214x300by Mollie Barton

Recent federal court rulings, federal regulations, and the resulting administrative actions in the Commonwealth of Virginia have allowed same sex couples to marry and to adopt children. Inevitably, this means that lesbian and gay couples will also divorce, need custody determinations, and inherit property from their spouses.  Essentially, Virginia family law is now gender neutral, as outlined below.

  • Any couple with a valid marriage from another state or country may now file for divorce, provided they have resided in Virginia for at least six months before filing suit.
  • Married couples can now file joint federal and state income tax returns.
  • Qualified retirement plans can be divided between two same-sex spouses in equitable distribution and to satisfy support obligations.
  • Spouses and former spouses are defined as “stepparents” in custody suits, regardless of their gender.
  • Same-sex couples can now legally adopt children and spouses may adopt the children of their partners.
  • In terms of real estate, all married couples will now be entitled to the protections afforded by property held as Tenants by the Entirety.

Many couples consider assets acquired during their committed relationships—prior to legal marriage— to be marital property, while Virginia law strictly defines marital property as that acquired during the legal marriage. To avoid potential discord, I recommend that couples enter into pre-marital or marital agreements.  Such contracts may be used to define what is marital property, what is the marital share of a retirement plan, to define or limit spousal support in the event of separation or divorce, and to address estate rights.

Marital agreements can also be an important element of an estate plan. Couples who have children from prior relationships may wish to make provisions for those children, or should at least be made aware of the rights of their current spouse. Beneficiary designations will also need to be checked and possibly changed at divorce, if the former spouse had been named on a life insurance policy or retirement account. In the event of the death of a spouse, widows and widowers will be entitled to the elective share of their spouse’s estate, unless they have a pre-marital or other agreement that defines those rights.  The same sound reasons to draft marital agreements apply to all couples, same-sex or opposite-sex.

Agreements can be drafted prior to marriage (commonly known as “prenups”), during marriage, or after divorce. Each type of agreement has pros and cons depending on the circumstances. Timing can be a delicate issue, but an experienced family law attorney can help smooth the process. Whatever the type of agreement, it is important that each party fully disclose and describe his or her property in concrete terms.  Both parties should be aware what they may be entitled to and what they are giving up, or the agreement may be unenforceable due to lack of disclosure or fraud.

Well-written agreements can help prevent expensive contested divorce or probate litigation. Alternative processes such as mediation or collaboration can be utilized to dissolve a marriage under the right circumstances and with the proper documents.

Learn more about Batzl Stiles Butler Family Law Attorneys here.

Is It More Than Stress?

By Mark Loewen

Sign #1: Not Getting Enough Sleep

Everyone experiences stress. And stress by itself is not purely negative. In fact, positive experiences such as traveling, getting a promotion, or starting a new relationship all cause stress on our minds and bodies. But have you wondered if you are experiencing more than just stress? Knowing the signs can help you recognize the root of your discomfort so that you can take steps to feel better. In this post I’ll describe one often overlooked sign that you may be dealing with more than just stress, specifically lack of restful sleep.

Sleep is important for us to recharge and operate at peak performance.  The optimal amount of sleep for an adult 18-64 years old is 7 to 9 hours each night. If you don’t get enough sleep, you operate at a less efficient level and incur a “sleep debt.” This type of debt, however, is not easily paid off. Your body does not recover from loosing six hours of sleep with an extra six hours the next day. To recover, you require a few nights of consistent sleep. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, you may be incurring sleep debt. Consequently, you become physically, cognitively, and emotionally impaired.

Also, how you feel at night when you are not sleeping is important. Our minds have evolved to pay more attention to the negative thoughts at night because our ancestors were more vulnerable to dangers after dark. Negative thoughts are harder to push aside when you aren’t distracted by your work or other daily activities. If you notice yourself feeling more stressed, anxious or depressed at night, your mind may be point ing you toward emotional needs that need to be addressed. Many describe this struggle as not being able to shut off their thoughts.

Just as our body naturally and automatically starts a healing process when it gets hurt, our mind does the same. It wants to heal wounds and resolve issues that come in the way of your happiness. It does this by directing your attention to these issues when it’s most successful to do so - at night.

There will always be stressful situations. Even so, stress shouldn’t get to the point where it has a drastic effect on you. When stress changes the way you want to live, and keeps you from feeling the way you want to feel, it may be time to take action. For emotional stress, help most often comes through relationship. But sometimes it feels as if friends or family don’t “get it.” Or you fear that people around you may become tired of listening to you. A trained counselor can help you find solutions to the source of your stress. You can feel better. Finding resolution for your feelings of anxiety or your sadness can be the key to getting your sleep back!

Mark Loewen is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Richmond, VA.

Frequent Flyer Miles

Legalese by Kate Fletcher

Do you travel a lot? Does your spouse or maybe one of your parents?  What happens to all of those frequent flyer miles when the traveler dies?  The answer is, of course, "it depends."  

I researched and inquired with a variety of airlines and the answers were not uniform. Although the airline written policy might be to NOT transfer miles upon death, if you ask the right questions, of the right person, you may succeed. My advice is to specify in your estate planning documents who should receive the miles and if you are the recipient, call the airline and ask (nicely) to have the miles transferred to you.  

If you are not named as the beneficiary in an estate planning documents, you will probably only be eligible to receive the miles if you are the "next of kin." Likely, a death certificate, affidavit and/or signed form(s) will be required. Perseverance should get the miles transferred. As a reminder, miles can be transferred to others as a gift or to provide emergency travel.

Condos come in all shapes and sizes, the same as the variety ofpeople who chose to live in them.

by Wanda Fears, Long & Foster

These days there are lots of reasons to opt for condominium living over traditional homes. Homeowners no longer fit a particular bill. In today’s world of customizing 'til it works, there are as many different lifestyles as there are census boxes to check!

Independence

Who wants to come home to a house full of chores? If something goes wrong there’s no one to call on but yourself. It takes a lot of know-how and without that, any projects or repairs can get expensive quick. While with condo-living, you are indeed responsible for what you own, there is generally a list of items and routinely scheduled maintenance that the HOA covers without the owner having to worry about it.

Like the shared ownership of the land your condo sits on, many of the major costs are shared with your neighbors through association dues. These dues cover outside maintenance you may not have time— or the ability to do yourself. General groundskeeping from lawn mowing, landscaping and shoveling snow in the winter to the more costly repairs like roof damage, or window replacement can be covered by these dues.

Lifestyle

Our growing and expanding metropolis is becoming more and more a hot-spot to live, work and travel to. However, we still pride ourselves in the small town feel and Richmond is not like New York City, Atlanta or DC. If you’re used to Big City Living, owning a condo might be a really great option for you! You still have all the benefits of home owning like building equity, increasing property value through renovations, or even just buying in a still up-and-coming area.

Many condominium communities offer great lifestyle amenities, some of which would be more costly if purchased individually. Benefits like a clubhouse to hold private or community gatherings, a gym, a swimming pool or a theatre room are often times a huge draw to condo living. In addition to these wonderful benefits, there is increased security as compared to a freestanding home, which is often contracted out to a private company decided on by the board.

“HathaGay”

All of the things mentioned above are great but as a member of the LGBT community sometimes we feel the most comfortable around some of our peers. Hathaway Towers offers: a convenient location, close to shopping and downtown. It offers many of the amenities like the ones mentioned above: a clubhouse, a pool and a gym. The units can be customized to your liking, I know because I did it and now it is perfect. There is no place like in Richmond and the LGBT community is paying attention because it has all the right qualities that allow someone to live a worry free lifestyle with little to no sacrifices.

There are many reasons why owning a condo is the right fit for you. The major thing when researching your desired condo is the contract, to know exactly what your fees are paying for and to go over the rules and bylaws. It’s also important to research the association to make sure they’ve been responsible in keeping to the budget and maintaining a healthy reserve fund. Having a real estate agent with experience in condos can help you minimize your risk and find the condo that’s perfect for you!

Hathaway Towers is located off of Forest Hill Ave at 2956 Hathaway Rd, minutes away from downtown.

Call Wanda Fears for more information or a tour. Get on the waiting list now. 804-909-2777

See video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gjbfrJJcU0

What's mine is yours, right?

mine yours oursby Sheryl Herndon, White & McCarthy Law

What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, right?  The answer is ... IT DEPENDS.  Are you married?  Do you have a valid will?  Have you updated your beneficiary designations?  Do you have a trust?  Have you made gifts during your lifetime?  How is your real estate titled?  Do you have a marital agreement?  Do you have a durable power of attorney?  Do you have a marital agreement?  Have you moved from another state?

Although few couples want to contemplate the “Big Ds”: Death, Disability and Divorce, estate planning is critical for everyone over the age of 18 – single, married, LGBT and straight.  The law makes no accommodations in situations of disability or death for couples in a non-marital relationship and while married couples are entitled to certain legal rights and presumptions, these rights and presumptions should not be considered a substitute for a proper estate plan.

If you fail to plan, state law and courts will “make” your plan for you and it is a safe bet that the plan will be more expensive and more cumbersome that the one you would have implemented.  It is also possible that the plan will be contrary to your intentions and wishes.

INCAPACITY.

Health. An advance medical directive allows you to designate the specific individual(s) who you want to make your medical decisions if you are unable to make them. You can nominate a primary agent and designate a secondary agent who may serve if your primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve. An advance medical directive also allows you to specify your wishes regarding certain health situations, such as end of life treatment and organ donation and designate individuals with whom your agent must share information upon request.

If you are incapable of making informed health care decisions due to an accident or illness and have not executed an advance medical directive, the law defines who may provide consent for your doctor to provide or withhold health care. Under current Virginia law, the order of decision makers, in descending order, as follows: (i) a guardian, (ii) if there is not guardian, a spouse, (iii) if there is no spouse, an adult child, (iv) if there is no adult child, a parent, and (iv) if there is not parent, an adult sibling, and then, (v) any other blood relative in descending order. If there is more than one individual in the same class (such as two children), the majority of reasonable available members of that class control the decision.

Finances. A general durable power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted friend, family member or attorney to manage your financial and legal matters if you are unable to do so. You can nominate a primary agent and designate a secondary agent who may serve if your primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve. You may specify when the agent may act, the extent of his or her authority, and identify individuals to whom your agent must disclose his or her actions.

Although the law provides “default” health care decision makers, there are no statutory provisions which authorize an individual to manage your finances and legal matters if you are unable to do so. Without proper legal documents, authority can only be obtained pursuant to a court finding that you are incapacitated and enter an order appointing a Conservator to manage your assets. This process is expensive and cumbersome; there can be considerable delay between the incapacity and the entry of a court order; and the results may be very different from what you intended.

DEATH.

Some of the most important benefits of wills and trusts are that they allow you to state your wishes regarding what happens at your death. Proper estate planning documents allow you to designate who should serve as the guardian of your minor children, who will administer your estate, who will (and who won’t) receive assets, the manner in which those assets are to be distributed at your death, and whether. Pursuant to either a will or a trust, you can direct that assets be held in trust for beneficiaries until they reach a certain age or status, protect a beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefits, designate who will control funds while they are held in trust and, make provisions for charitable beneficiaries. If it is important for your estate plan to remain private, you can create a revocable trust. Since a revocable trust is generally not filed with the court and does not become public record, the nature and value of your assets, the identify of your beneficiaries, the amount that beneficiaries receive, and conditions regarding distribution are kept private.

Who.

Absent a valid will or trust, the law directs who will administer your estate and who will receive your assets upon your death. Laws regarding the distribution of your assets vary among states. In Virginia, if you are legally married and die without a will, your spouse receives the entirety of your estate, unless you are survived by children (or their descendants) who are not children of your surviving spouse, in which case, your surviving spouse receives one-third of your estate and your children (or their descendants) receive two-thirds of your estate.

If you have no surviving spouse at your death, your estate passes to your children and their descendants. If you have no spouse and no children (or descendants), your assets pass to your parents, or the survivor of them; or if there are none, your assets pass to your brothers and sisters and their descendants; and if there are none the Virginia Code defines the individuals to whom your estate descends and passes. If there is no other heir or distribute of the decedent’s real or personal estate, it escheats to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Proper planning with an estate planning attorney can help you determine the best way to ensure that you, your assets and your beneficiaries are protected and that your wishes regarding your medical care, finances and estate are honored.

Your digital estate

Legalese by Kate Fletcher

I recently received a Facebook notification that it was "John's" birthday. John was an elementary school chum and passed away a few years ago. Besides evoking sadness, the notification had me thinking again about my Facebook account, online banking and everything else I accessed on the internet. Did no one know "John's" Facebook password and that's why the account lives on in his absence? Was someone controlling his account and as yet are unable to let go?

A new part of estate planning is to advise clients about protecting their digital assets and their digital presence. When thinking about your online and digital presence, consider your bank accounts, shopping sites, credit cards, loans, bills, blogs, website, to name just a few. It may be a good idea to entrust a loved one with your important passwords and instructions on what to do in the event of your death.

Think about your digital presence and whether you should provide information to a trusted individual...or not.

Kate Fletcher is an attorney located in Richmond, Virginia

Changes to Social Security effective May 1

Congress has enacted some changes to the Social Security system that will be effective May 1, 2016.  If you are not yet at retirement age these changes could affect you. One of the changes is the doing away with a practice known as "file and suspend." Here is how it worked: if you were 66 or older, you could file for full benefits and then turn around and suspend them. For each year you suspended your benefits up until age 70, you would get an extra 8% added to your check. By age 70, you could have seen a 32% increase in your checks. While your benefits were suspended you could have your spouse claim the spousal benefit. Effective May 1, 2016 the option for your spouse to claim your social security benefits while you suspend your benefits is gone. However, if you are close to age 66 and have not filed for Social Security, talk to a financial advisor or a Social Security expert to see how this change may affect you and whether you may still be eligible to "file and suspend." There is a lot of planning still to be done with Social Security.

Tree Liability

Legalese by Kate Fletcher

Hot weather means storms and downed trees. The question is, who is liable and when? Virginia has specific law regarding liability from damage caused by a fallen tree.

EXAMPLE: Your neighbor’s tree threatens to land on your house if it comes down – can you force your neighbor to remove it? NO The storm hits and the neighbor’s tree actually comes down on your house – is the neighbor now liable? NO – This’s a case for your homeowner’s insurance.

The neighbor attempts to remove the tree but does an incomplete job and the tree comes down on your house – is the neighbor liable now? Maybe – the law says if the neighbor did something to worsen the situation, they may be held liable.

Generally, fallen trees are “nature” and there is no liability from your neighbor for what nature does. Review your homeowner’s policy to make sure you have the appropriate coverage.

Is It More Than Stress?

Feeling Grumpy

By Mark Loewen

LGBTQ people are pretty resilient. Even as Virginia becomes a “purple” state with marriage equality and all, being LGBTQ still means you at least face micro-aggressions regularly. Growing up lesbian, gay, bi or trans has most likely thrown a few “lemons” at you. And, as the saying goes, you most likely were forced to “made some lemonade”.  You created the best life that you could for yourself. Many of us decided to set boundaries with friends and family. We’ve separated work and personal life because we didn’t know if it was OK to be ourselves at our jobs. These decisions kept you safe, and in many ways made your life better. But, they also carry weight on your wellbeing in the long term.

As a therapist I notice a special kind of strength in clients who have to deal with these tough decisions. Struggle and suffering has made them stronger in many ways.

But, when you are used to live with stress, and you start to become overwhelmed, how do you know if this time you are dealing with more than just the regular? How do you know if you should reach out to someone and deal with the underlying issues that fuel your negative feelings? Are you dealing with feelings of depression that require some extra help? Or does everyone go through these same moods, which basically would make your feelings “normal?”

In this post I’ll address one the signs that you may be dealing with more than just stress: feeling grumpy. Regular stress can leave you in a grumpy mood. But, if you are always feeling angry, that can also be a sign of depression. This goes beyond a sassy personality (although it can be expressed as such). Rather, it’s a more constant state of irritability.

Depression is closely linked to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Another symptom of depression is a loss of interest in activities that you enjoyed in the past. So, when you feel this dip in experiencing pleasure or happiness in general, a very common reaction is to feel and act grumpy.

Society makes anger more acceptable than other, more vulnerable feelings. Raising your voice at someone that mistreated you feels safer than crying in front of someone that hurt you. When you fear feeling weak you may unconsciously switch your perspective to a feeling that makes you feel stronger. You can observe this in animals that feel threatened, and as a result make themselves look bigger and more aggressive. It’s a very useful defense mechanism, and has helped our species survive for millions of years.

Anger is a very useful feeling, because it elicits change in yourself and people around you. But, it blocks you from feeling better if you are using it at a time when a different feeling needs to be expressed. Being in a constant state of irritability prevents you from seeing the good in the world and finding solutions to your stress.

If you feel annoyed or irritable too often, you may be seeing a sign that your stress is more serious than the average. It may be a good time to learn new ways of dealing with difficult situations. Some life changes may be in order. You don’t need to feel this way all the time! The first step to feeling better is to reach out, whether this means contacting a friend, reading a helpful book, or scheduling an appointment with a good therapist. My only advice, don’t wait too long.

Mark Loewen helps overwhelmed adults find their way when life becomes too much to handle. He specializes in parenting, relationships, and LGBTQ issues. launchpadcounseling.com/mark-loewen

Is It More Than Stress?

Not being able to focus

By Mark Loewen

I work with people who are emotionally overwhelmed. Counseling is for many a last resort. By the time a client steps in my office, they have struggled for a while, only to see things become worse. This makes total sense to me. If you are used to dealing with difficulties, you tackle them on your own first. Many stressful situations are successfully resolved this way.

So how do you know if your stress is in the normal range? In my previous post I discussed one of the signs: lack of sleep. Here I’ll address the second: difficulty to focus on regular tasks.

We all struggle with concentration and focus during times of extra stress. Or, rather than experiencing a lack of focus, you feel that your mind is focusing very strongly on what it deems most important. Maybe you struggled to focus on work tasks during a big change in your personal life. Your mind saw the personal event as more important than your daily tasks. But with some extra effort, you were able to responsibly fulfill your job duties that day. Once the event passed, everything went back to normal.

So, when is lack of concentration a sign of something more than regular life-stress? When it’s overwhelming and you aren’t able to complete daily tasks successfully. Or, when you are simultaneously overwhelmed with emotions. You may feel anxious, worried, sad or helpless. On the other hand, you may feel the opposite - a total lack of emotion that feels numb. Another sign is that it lasts longer than you feel you can tolerate.

Not being able to concentrate or having a foggy memory could be signs of depression or anxiety. Depression often shows up as a lack of energy or motivation that makes efforts to focus very hard. Anxiety can show up as a heightened state of alertness that focuses on your worries. Much so, that it’s actually hard not to focus on what makes you anxious. You struggle to control your anxious thoughts.

During this time, you try even harder to concentrate, therefore putting even more stress on yourself. The extra stress heightens your anxiety and your lack of success fuels your feelings of helplessness. It becomes a vicious cycle.

The more helpful solution sounds counterintuitive. It is more helpful to give your mind rest, instead of added pressure. Activities such as taking several breaths with long exhalations can give you some relief. More focused activities such as yoga or exercise can also make a big difference. These strategies reduce stress by targeting your physiology directly, reducing your heart rate, and relaxing your muscles. They are, however, most effective when combined with deeper reflection about the source of your stress. The unbiased feedback from a counselor can shed light on areas of your life that are hard to figure out. A non-judgmental relationship with someone that has “heard it all” allows you to safely express thoughts that you wouldn’t share with an acquaintance. And, counseling creates a domino effect that allows you to apply new coping strategies and insight to other scenarios - making it easier for you to deal with stress in the future.

If a consistent difficulty with concentration or focus is coming in the way reaching personal or professional goals, don’t ignore it. It may be time to reach out for help.

Mark Loewen helps overwhelmed adults find their way when life becomes too much to handle. He specializes in parenting, relationships, and LGBTQ issues. launchpadcounseling.com/mark-loewen

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

By Benson Wealth Management Group

In United States v. Windsor (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which required that federal statutes, regulations, and rulings be interpreted as defining marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman" and a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." Then, in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down every ban on same-sex marriage in the United States, including Section 2 of DOMA which provided that states have the right to deny recognition of same-sex marriages licensed in other states.

As a result, same-sex marriages must now be recognized by every state and the federal government. If you're in a same-sex marriage or about to get married, you'll want to consider reviewing your estate planning goals, strategies, and documents with an estate planning attorney to determine whether changes are necessary.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships

During the period when same-sex marriages were not recognized universally throughout the country, some states created marriage equivalents such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. These laws varied, and there is now some reconsideration about the need for these laws. Other states (and the federal government) are not required to recognize these marriage equivalents as they are not legally marriages. For example, for federal tax purposes, marriage is not considered to include civil unions, domestic partnerships, and similar provisions. If you are in a civil union or domestic partnership, you might consider taking the next step to marriage.

Transfer taxes

When you transfer your property during your lifetime or at your death, your transfers may be subject to the federal gift tax, estate tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax (at a top tax rate of 40%). Your transfers may also be subject to state taxes.

Federal gift tax

You can make annual tax-free gifts of up to $14,000 per recipient. The amount can be doubled if you split gifts with your spouse. And while you can make deductible transfers to your spouse if you are married, transfers to your partner may be taxable if you are not married. However, you have a basic exclusion amount that protects up to $5,450,000 (in 2016, $5,430,000 in 2015) from gift and estate taxes.

Federal estate tax

As with the gift tax, you can make deductible transfers to your spouse, and you have the basic exclusion amount. When you die, your estate can elect to transfer any unused exclusion amount to your surviving spouse (a concept referred to as portability). Your surviving spouse can use your unused exclusion amount, plus his or her own basic exclusion amount, for gift and estate tax purposes. Portability is not available if you're not married. If you're married, you should review your estate planning documents to ensure that they properly provide for the marital deduction and applicable exclusion amount.

Federal generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax

The federal GST tax generally applies if you transfer property to a person two or more generations younger than you (for example, a grandchild). The GST tax may apply in addition to any gift or estate tax. Similar to the gift tax provisions above, an annual exclusion is available, and married couples can split gifts. You can protect up to $5,450,000 (in 2016, $5,430,000 in 2015) with the GST tax exemption. However, the GST tax exemption is not portable between spouses.

Wills

A will is quite often the cornerstone of an estate plan. It is a legal document that directs how your property is to be distributed when you die, including amounts that pass to your spouse or partner. It also allows you to name an executor to carry out your wishes as specified in the will and a guardian for your minor children.

If you are married, your spouse may have rights under state law to elect to receive a portion (e.g., one-half or one-third) of your estate, even if you provide otherwise in your will. Your spouse may also be entitled to a portion of your estate even if you don't have a will. However, if you're not married, your partner will generally receive only what you provide for in your will (or through joint ownership or beneficiary designations). To protect your spouse and other loved ones, make sure your documents are up-to-date, including your will and beneficiary designations.

Tenancy by entirety and community property

In some states, married couples can use a form of joint and survivor ownership of property known as tenancy by the entirety. While both spouses are alive, a tenancy by the entirety generally provides better asset protection than other forms of property ownership.

Spouses generally own property acquired while married and living in a community property state as community property. If you are married and live in a community property state, consider converting property owned separately by you and your spouse into community property.

Planning for incapacity

Incapacity can happen to anyone at any time, but your risk generally increases as you grow older. You have to consider what would happen if, for example, you were unable to make decisions or conduct your own affairs. Failing to plan may mean a court would have to appoint a guardian, and the guardian might make decisions that would be different from what you would have wanted.

Health-care directives, such as a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate order, can help others make sound decisions about your health when you are unable to do so yourself. There are also tools, such as joint ownership, a durable power of attorney, or a living trust, that can help others manage your property when you are unable to do so.

These tools may be useful whether you are married or not. But if you're not married, they may be critical in giving your partner (who is not related to you) some authority to make decisions for you.

Life insurance

Life insurance plays a part in many estate plans. In a small estate, life insurance may actually create the estate and be the primary financial resource for your surviving family members. Life insurance can also be used to provide liquidity for your estate, for example, by providing the cash to pay final expenses, outstanding debts, and taxes so that other assets don't have to be liquidated to pay these expenses. Life insurance proceeds can generally be received free of income tax.

Reconsider your insurance needs to make sure that you have the right types and amounts of coverage, and check your beneficiary designations. For instance, if you are married with children, you might consider a second-to-die policy that pays benefits only upon the death of the surviving spouse.

Retroactivity

If you were denied some right or benefit because your same-sex marriage was not recognized in the past, you might still be entitled to some corrective action. At a minimum, for example, you can still file an amended federal tax return as married for any year in which the time for filing is still open. You generally have three years from the date you filed your federal tax return or two years after the date you paid the tax due (whichever is later) to amend your return. In general, this means that you may be able to amend 2012 returns until as late as October 17, 2016, depending on when you filed your 2012 return.

A word of caution

The decision to marry can involve many complex factors. Whether you view certain state laws as favorable may depend on your own situation. For example, depending on whether you bring significant assets into the marriage, you may have a different viewpoint of a state law that allows a surviving spouse to elect a share of the estate regardless of what is provided in a will.

Many tax provisions are favorable to married taxpayers. Marital deductions, split gifts, and portability of the applicable exclusion amount are just a few examples. However, many tax provisions are designed to restrict tax benefits if the parties to a transaction are related. You might want to consult a tax professional.

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