An estimated 3 million LGBTQ+ adults are currently over age 50. This figure is expected to reach 7 million by 2030. LGBTQ+ elders are twice as likely to be single and live alone, four times less likely to have children, and far more likely to face discrimination and stigmas that affect their choices for health care and housing. Despite these statistics, many members of the LGBTQ+ community live full, vibrant lives by planning ahead and ensuring they're well-resourced as they age.
Financial and Legal Obstacles Faced by Same-Sex Couples as They Age
The federal codification of same-sex marriage in 2015 simplified some tax processes, but there may still be other obstacles to having the necessary resources later in life. These are issues that can and do affect anybody, especially our community.
For instance, many same-sex couples face a degree of discrimination from their biological families, so they may not have the additional financial support structure some people have. They may be unable to count on their family members to take care of their end-of-life wishes or their estate.
You have to be organized to move forward in your life with intent and purpose. As situations arise or your capacity diminishes, you can have a direction you want to travel, but you also need to have the train on the tracks to ensure you get there. Putting a legal framework in place through the proper channels can head off relationship complexities and ensure a plan is in place.
Proactive Steps for LGBTQ+ Estate Planning
Enlist professional help.
Legal counsel is par for the course for anybody, whether that's for a revocable living trust, wills, powers of attorney, or an advanced healthcare directives. A revocable living trust, in particular, can avoid the public showing and vetting for estate planning purposes that happens when people pass away if assets are correctly titled.
If you can, it helps to leverage an advocate in the LGBTQ+ community because they're going to have an understanding of and experience with the unique challenges that come up.
Know your rights.
If you're in a relationship, you'll have different sets of rights under a federally recognized marriage vs. a state-dependent domestic partnership.
Many states don't offer domestic partnerships—and in places like Washington State, you may not be considered a domestic partnership unless one of the parties is over the age of 62.
A federally legal marriage lets you transcend state law, file taxes jointly, secure spousal Social Security benefits, and gain inheritance rights.
Check your designations.
Whether you're married or not, make sure all your beneficiary forms and designations are accurate and up to date. Check your retirement planning documents and life insurance policies, in particular—because these documents will transcend your estate planning documents, wills, and trusts.
Consider your inheritance rights and tax implications.
If you're married, 100% of the time your partner will be recognized for pension and survivorship benefits. If it's a domestic partnership, you need to know what the state either mandates or allows. Insurance benefits and health insurance coverage also vary by state—unless you're married.
For estate planning documents, whether you're married or not really does matter because if you're married, you get an unlimited amount of asset transfers between married spouses, during life and at death. So, when you pass away, all properly titled and structured assets will go to your spouse without triggering Federal taxes.
With a domestic partnership, you’ll miss out on the unlimited tax-free asset transfers between married spouses when inheriting assets from your partner. A handful of states, such as California and Oregon, have robust domestic partnership laws that recognize the right to inheritance, but there could be taxation issues, depending on the state.
If kids are involved, domestic partners can benefit from legal counsel to understand what state laws say about guardianship.
Figuring Out Who Can Help With Elder Caregiving
As you age, you may have family members or close friends who can help you out—but if you don't, you may want to research the burgeoning industry of geriatric care managers, trust administrators, or care management firms. You can hire some of these firms as a one-stop shop for agents of powers of attorney, trust administration, geriatric care management, tax filing, management of financial affairs, and healthcare advocacy.
There are also firms that specialize in healthcare—managing doctors, medicine, appointments, and medical bill pay. Some professionals specialize in all aspects of bill pay—like utilities and property taxes—so you can stay in your home as long as possible without having to worry about all the monthly paperwork.
There's no federal oversight for who you choose to manage your care later in life, so it’s best to start this process when you're younger, talk to people getting these services, and see how it works. Otherwise, you'll be left to the mercy of the state and whatever resources you have. To give you a ballpark idea, currently, you may be paying a low-level case worker who schedules medical appointments and pays your bills, at approximately $120 an hour. Higher-level matters, as acting as an agent for powers of attorney, you can expect to pay upwards of $300 an hour.
Ahead of time, planning is the first step, but you also want to make sure you're as well-resourced as possible to help pay for these services if you don't have family or friends you can really count on to volunteer. Don't wait until you've had a medical event or starting to suffer from diminished capacity to research, exercise due diligence, and figure out the intricacies of state law and the service industry. Start to develop a game plan in your forties and fifties—before you're forced to do it under duress or before you're incapacitated.
Planning Long-Term Care and a Kinder Future
When it comes to long-term care, resources become especially vital, as you'll want a facility that's a kinder and gentler place for people to identify as LGBTQ+. You want to end up in a situation where the people you're dependent on for care respect your lifestyle and treat you with empathy.
In some locations like Florida, California, North Carolina, and Oregon, facilities and communities are being set up for the aging LGBTQ+ community—but many of these have long waiting lists, so planning ahead and building up resources can be crucial to leading the type of lifestyle you want as you get older. If you're fabulously wealthy, maybe you can self-pay, but for most people in our community, long-term care insurance can make a big difference.
If staying in your home as long as possible is your goal, take the time now to cultivate relationships with young people who can look out for you with a phone call, a bag of groceries, or a check-in. If you're in your eighties, it's helpful to have friends in their sixties who can look at a piece of paper and let you know whether it's legitimate or looks like a scam.
A friend can help you keep tabs on your credit report, find out about resources to help care for your needs, and ease the transition through the elder period. If you need help meeting people, you might attend programs at a house of worship, for instance, or you might take part in community organizations, book clubs, or volunteering for a nonprofit.
Finding LGBTQ+ Friendly Financial Planning
Financial planning concepts are universal, but to get the best results and maximize your potential, you want an open relationship with someone who is receptive to you.
If you have a good relationship with your financial planner, you will feel free enough to say, "Here’s how I live my life and here’s how I see my future panning out.”
If you don’t feel like the person on the other end is receptive or doesn't understand where you're going, you're probably not going to be as open and sharing with that professional, and that’s going to have a negative impact on how effective your financial planning is.
I have a lot of clients from all walks of life, and I don’t think there’s anything necessarily unique to financial planning for the LGBTQ+ community—except the importance of finding a firm you can be honest with, and a person on the other side of the table that’s really seeing you for who you are and ready to listen.
That’s the kind of person EP Wealth can connect you with. I’d love to talk when you’re ready.