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Basic estate planning for same-sex couples

Since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legal status of same-sex marriage in June 2015, LGBT families in New York might find that their estate planning can now follow the routes taken by opposite-sex couples for years. To create a basic estate plan, a person should write a will along with a power of attorney and become informed about estate taxes.

Close to two-thirds of Americans lack a will for stating their final wishes. With a will, a person can assign a guardian for children and distribute assets to friends, family members or charitable foundations. A will can also mean that the state laws of intestacy will be irrelevant, unless the document is declared invalid by a probate court.

Although marriage has become legal for same-sex couples, a spouse does not automatically gain the right to make decisions should a partner become incapacitated. An officially executed power of attorney would allow the spouse to make decisions on health care and financial matters in such an event.

Estate taxes on the state or federal level could also be an issue. Although the size of the federal estate tax exemption makes this a non-issue for most people, some states, like New York, have their own taxes with lower exemptions.

Drafting estate planning documents is best left in the hands of an attorney who has experience with these types of matters. As an example, in order to be valid, the execution of a will has to follow certain formalities that vary from state to state. Having legal assistance regardless of a person's marital status can in many cases help to avoid a future challenge to the document.

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