Power of Attorney Critical for LGBT Couples

Posted April 6, 2012 in Estate Planning by

If you are a gay, lesbian or unmarried heterosexual couple, have you considered what role you would play in your partner’s healthcare should they become incapacitated and unable to communicate?

In critical situations, a hospital may only allow family members to visit a patient. If you and your partner aren’t married in the eyes of the law, will your access to your partner be restricted? Will doctors defer to the opinions and wishes of your partner’s parents?

If you are an LGBT couple or an unmarried hetero couple, you should consider creating a living will and healthcare power of attorney document naming your partner as your attorney-in-fact or healthcare proxy. This legal document helps ensure your partner can be involved in your medical treatment if you’ve been incapacitated and are unable to communicate.

“Due to the lack of LGBT relationship recognition laws in most states, and because most default medical decision-making law is not inclusive of LGBT families, it is especially important that same sex couples complete directives to ensure their ability to make medical decisions for incapacitated partners,” writes the Human Rights Campaign in its 2011 Healthcare Equality Index report. “Unfortunately, LGBT individuals come forward with tragic stories of hospitals failing to recognize these directives at critical moments of emergency and end-of-life medical treatment.”

The annual report tracks LGBT-related policies and procedures at healthcare facilities nationwide.


Essential Legal Documents

The living will and healthcare power of attorney are among the essential legal documents for every LGBT couple.

“Advance healthcare directives (i.e., durable powers of attorney, healthcare proxies and living wills) allow individuals to express their healthcare wishes and designate surrogates who may make medical decisions on their behalf in the event of mental incapacity,” the HRC says.

A living will enables you to explain what medical treatment you do and do not want to receive in end-of-life situations. You can share your wishes about treatment such as life support, pain medicine and artificial resuscitation. A healthcare power of attorney allows you to name an attorney-in-fact or healthcare proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. Your healthcare proxy can work with doctors and nurses, make treatment decisions and discuss your medical needs with insurers and healthcare providers.

Even if you live in a state that recognizes gay marriage, these legal documents may come in handy if you’re traveling out of state. If you don’t want to carry the documents with you at all times, share a copy with family members or friends who could email or fax them to a hospital in the event of an emergency.

Learn more about living wills and power of attorney, or find an attorney who can help you put together these important documents.

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