Sound Advice with Lee Carpenter

June 23, 2017

Sound Advice is a charitably-minded Q&A series from BCF by professional advisors in Baltimore. Do you have advice to share with colleagues? Contact Rosemary Calderalo today.

Lee Carpenter, Esq., is an attorney at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes.

Question: Can you explain the need for a will, with particular pointers for the LGBT community?  

Lee Carpenter

Answer: Dying without a Will, or “intestate,” is like sailing without a compass. You might get where you want to be, but you might wind up hopelessly lost instead. This is especially true for members of the LGBT community and others in nontraditional families. 

For many of us, the people we consider loved ones aren’t necessarily related to us by blood or marriage, although they may be. But rather than considering how long two partners have been together, or the fact that someone’s ex is really their closest friend, the state will distribute a deceased person’s assets by looking to their family tree. 

For example, in Maryland if you are single and have no children, your assets would go to your parents. If you are legally married and do have children, the first $15,000.00 of your estate would go to your spouse, and the rest would be split between your spouse and the kids. Or if you are married without children, $15,000.00 would go to your surviving spouse and the remainder would be divided between your spouse and your parents. 

These surprising results under Maryland’s “default” estate plan should be enough to convince most people of a simple truth—they really ought to prepare a Will.

A Will enables you to say who will inherit from you. It also appoints someone you trust to settle your estate. In the LGBT community, many prefer to have their closest friend, rather than their closest relative, take on this job. If you have minor children, who should their guardians be? Should they receive their inheritance through a trust? If so, who should serve as trustee?

These questions may be difficult to consider. They include the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenarios we would rather not think about. But these questions will be much easier to contemplate in the light of day, when heads are clear and emotions calm, rather than after a crisis erupts, when it may simply be too late.

Preparing a Will is also an opportunity to remember the causes and organizations you support. Even a small bequest to charity can be a gratifying addition to an estate plan. The bequest could go to a fund you establish at the Baltimore Community Foundation or directly to an organization that shares your philanthropic goals.  

The task of preparing a Will may be easy to put off, but it’s also easy to take on. An estate-planning attorney can help you opt out of Maryland’s “default” estate plan with one tailored to your unique circumstances. 

Planning Your Legacy, our estate planning guide, can be a great way to get an estate planning conversation started with your clients. We have copies of our free Planning Your Legacy guide available today. Email Rosemary Calderalo to request copies now.  

This information is offered as an educational service. While we attempt to provide helpful estate and financial background information, BCF is not able to offer specific legal advice on personal situations.  We always encourage individuals to seek the advice of their own professional advisors to create a customized estate and financial plan that truly fulfills each individual’s unique family, healthcare, estate and planning circumstances.

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