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Domestic partnerships can present estate planning challenges

The landscape of American families is constantly changing. No longer is the traditional nuclear family of a man and woman raising one or more children the majority situation in the United States. Census Bureau data show less than a quarter of all households fit that demographic. Households in the United States, New Jersey included, are now comprised of various family types; whether they are single parent households or domestic partnerships.

Like any other couples, domestic partners have legitimate reason to want to prepare for the future and unforeseen circumstances. Whether they are trying to provide for their children or dictate who should make important medical decisions in the event of a disabling accident, there's a need for proper estate planning.

Because same-sex marriages are not currently recognized by federal law, domestic partners can encounter unique challenges. In New Jersey, same-sex couples can legally adopt a child in some circumstances and efforts are under way to legalize same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, nationally, it's estimated that there are as many as 2.8 million children being raised in homes with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender patients. So it remains vital for domestic partners to execute adequate powers-of-attorney and living wills. Both document forms are important for naming someone to make financial and medical decisions should one partner be unable to do so because of an accident or other condition.

If tragedy unfortunately strikes both domestic partners, a will is essential for distributing assets and providing for their children.

The point here is that proper estate planning is critical, but it can be difficult for same-sex couples. The law, or sometimes disapproving family members, can make it complicated. But that only means that clearly written and properly executed estate planning documents are more crucial.

Source: AmericanProgress.org, "The Changing Reality of the American Family," Jennifer Chrisler, Laura Deaton, Jeff Krehely, Jan. 27, 2012

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