Much media attention has been paid to the legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage and whether it is legally recognized. In states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, the couples do not receive many of the same legal benefits that are given to those who are “legally” married. Many of these issues involve estate planning.
Ironically, many of the issues that have gained attention in the same-sex marriage debate have been faced in other non-traditional living arrangements for decades. Since living together without being married became prevalent several decades ago, those couples have often been surprised by the rights they do not have in each other’s lives. So unmarried couples, regardless of orientation, should make sure that they understand the rights they do, and more importantly, the ones they don’t have.
In the area of medical care, there are events that require a legally recognized relationship before another person can be involved or even informed. If your partner or significant other becomes mentally or physically incapacitated and needs decisions made for him or her about medical care, you may not be able to make those decisions, or even be a part of the discussion without the proper authorization.
Privacy laws such as HIPAA prevent medical professionals from even talking to someone who has not been named in writing as an authorized representative. Executing this document early in your relationship and having it on file with any medical providers can keep communication from being an issue. But to have a say in decisions, other measures must be taken. Having a medical power of attorney may be necessary to make important decisions for your partner such as whether or not to authorize surgery or give medications. Without these important documents, these decisions may well be out of your hands.