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Congratulations, you’re married! Or not…

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2013 has certainly been a tumultuous year in the struggle for marriage equality. In addition to more states passing marriage equality laws, the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on Proposition 8 and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act have dramatically changed the landscape of same-sex relationships and their legal definitions. As marriage equality becomes a reality in an ever-increasing number of jurisdictions, a large number of Utah couples have begun to travel to those locations to enter into legal marriages. Unfortunately, however, upon returning home to Utah, these marriages don’t have any legal effect.

The Human Rights Campaign has determined there are 1,138 legal benefits attached to the “married” status. These are automatic protections that don’t exist in states where a same-sex marriage is not recognized by law.

There are four main areas in which LGBT couples in states like Utah, that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, should investigate and create protections for themselves and their spouses and families: insurance, financial planning, legal and estate planning, and memorial/funeral planning.

In Utah, married couples and families are automatically included on property/casualty insurance. If a home is covered on a policy and the homeowner marries, the spouse is automatically insured on the property as well. However, that automatic protection doesn’t apply to a same-sex spouse, explains Jon Jepsen of SentryWest Insurance. Same-sex couples need to alter their insurance policies to list their spouses as “additionally insured.”  Some carriers allow this, some do not. This one inclusion, however, makes a huge difference in how  property is protected in the event of problems.

For financial and legal/estate planning, it is best to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney who specializes in this area for LGBT people. Danielle Hawkes, a Salt Lake City attorney, listed several documents that same-sex couples should prepare. This list includes a will, an advanced medical directive, and power of attorney for each spouse.

These documents, if properly prepared and executed, create for same-sex couples legal protections similar to those automatically granted to married couples.

Both Hawkes and Jepsen stress the importance of open and frequent consultation with a professional. Hawkes says the marriage landscape is changing. With each new court ruling and each new law passed in any jurisdiction, the definitions of same-sex marriage, civil union, or recognized relationship change. It’s daunting how frequently and dramatically the nature of a couple’s relationship can change based upon these new rulings and laws. Having the advice of an experienced professional who deals specifically with these issues in this community is vital to ensuring that relationships, spouses and families are protected.

The final issue is with regard to memorial and funeral planning. Many couples assume that because they’re married, their spouse has the authority to make their final arrangements. While this is true, Utah doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, so when one part of a couple passes on, according to Utah, they are unmarried. In such a case, decision-making authority is passed first to living children, then to parents, and finally to other family members.

Same-sex couples need to formally designate the person responsible for their final arrangements. This designation takes legal precedence and ensures the wishes of the person are honored. A power of attorney is not sufficient in this case, as they legally expire upon the death of the individual. As with legal and insurance issues, it is best to consult an expert in advance of the time of need.


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