What About Health Care Decisions, Wills and Probate?

Advocates of gay rights have long argued against the unfairness they’ve experienced in dealing with in the areas of health care decisions, wills and probate. For example, gay partners were not previously recognized as having the same legal rights as spouses in making medical decisions for their partners, and partners were routinely denied the ability to be at the hospital or nursing home bedside of their ill or dying partners.

This is one reason the gay rights community is so pleased with passage of the civil union law, because now domestic partners are on an equal par with spouses for health care decision-making and wills and probate. Partners are now afforded the same rights that spouses have, including making decisions about continuing or withholding life-sustaining measures.

Similarly, in the area of wills and estates, partners have rights that were previously extended only to spouses. For example, at the death of a civil union partner, the surviving partner will be treated equal to a surviving spouse. The surviving partner will receive the entire estate of the deceased partner if there are no descendants of the deceased partner and no will. If the deceased partner died leaving a will, the surviving civil union partner has the right to contest the will or renounce the will and take a statutory share of the partner’s estate, just as a spouse has those rights.

Although these rights are provided by law, partners are encouraged to do what everyone else is encouraged to do. That is, meet with your lawyer to review and discuss your personal situation and the specifics of your estate and personal wishes. There is never a substitute for ensuring that your estate will be handled consistent with your wishes and not the wishes of this state or any other.