The poignant documentary, “Bridegroom” written and directed by Linda Bloodworth–Thomason (who created and wrote the television series “Designing Women”), vividly illustrates the human cost of a same-sex couple’s failure to do any type of estate planning. It tells the story of Tom and Shane, two young men in a loving, committed, 6-year-long relationship that was tragically cut short by an accident. The heartbreaking tale of what happened after the accident proves just how critical appropriate estate planning documents are for same-sex and other unmarried couples. Click here to watch an overview of the film on YouTube.
After Tom’s accident, his family, who disapprove of his relationship with Shane, takes over and refuses to allow Shane to visit Tom in the hospital. They even prevent Shane from attending Tom’s funeral. Without a marriage license or proper estate planning documents, Shane has no rights under the law, resulting in the anguish which haunts Shane to this day and is so eloquently portrayed in the documentary. The true tragedy is that, regardless of whether Tom and Shane could have been legally married at the time of Tom’s accident, they should have been able to plan in a way that would have given Shane legal rights similar to those of a spouse.
At the very least, same-sex and other unmarried couples in Florida can execute critical lifetime planning documents including a designation of health care surrogate and general durable power of attorney. Under Florida law, Tom could have named Shane as his health care surrogate, i.e. the person to make health care decisions for him if he became unable to do so. This would have permitted Shane to be in the hospital room, consult with doctors, and direct the medical care provided to Tom. A general durable power of attorney would have given Shane access to Tom’s finances to pay for the necessary care.
Death planning documents, at a minimum, should have included a will naming Shane as Tom’s personal representative. This would have given Tom the right to plan and pay for the funeral, as well as to ensure that Tom’s assets were distributed according to his wishes. Living trust planning could have gone one step farther, allowing Tom to include more detailed instructions to take care of and protect himself and Shane.
Some relationships cry out more than others for a need to do estate planning. Same-sex and other long-term relationships without marriage are a key example. Our next installment of the Relationship Series will discuss why “Blended Families” are another.