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“We’re Here!” – Addressing Life Planning Needs of LGBT Seniors

by CBJC Staff September 16, 2015

Scenario: Judy is retired and her long-term companion Mavis has been unable to work in her later years because of a disability. They have no children and live alone in a modest co-op apartment that Mavis purchased decades earlier. Both contribute their fixed income to the maintenance fees and other shared expenses. They watched with some interest the marriage equality movement but never thought marriage was right for them. While they know they can benefit from speaking with a lawyer to get their affairs in order, the legal fees are beyond their means and there always seems to be some more pressing financial obligation.

The central mission of the LGBT Advocacy Project is to address unmet legal needs of the most vulnerable low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers. The project partners with community organizations and operates a free helpline to determine the community’s needs and how best to address them. The lack of sufficient life-planning services for the elderly is an area of particular concern the project has identified.

Life planning is generally the long view of how an individual may live his or her life securely and to its full potential, taking stock of goals and challenges. For a young person, it may be securing stable housing and employment. For a transgender person, it may be changing one’s name to match self-identified gender. For an elderly person, it may be to ensure healthcare and end-of-life decisions are in place and loved ones are protected in the case of death or illness.

Far too often, a gay or lesbian senior comes to the project when his or her life partner or close friend gets sick or passes away and there has been inadequate or no planning. If Mavis, for example, gets sick and is no longer able to make healthcare decisions for herself, someone else will have to step in. Without any formalized relationship or legal documentation, Judy has no say in what happens with Mavis, even if Mavis made clear her wishes. Even worse, Judy could potentially be kicked out of her home she shared with Mavis if a hostile family member, even a distant cousin, appears and takes control of the estate after Mavis passes away.

A spouse or domestic partner is presumed to make some of these decisions, but if a person is not partnered or his or her relationship is not formalized, a healthcare proxy, living will and power of attorney can allow a trusted friend or companion to make these important health and financial decisions. A will can ensure that a person’s property—whether the contents of an apartment, retirement account or the apartment itself—is distributed as wished.

If you are elderly or suffer from a serious illness or disability, you should consult with an attorney to get your personal and financial affairs in order so that your wishes can be carried out when you are unable to do so. The LGBT Advocacy Project can provide legal advice and may match you with a trained volunteer attorney to assist you with preparing a healthcare proxy, living will, power of attorney, and will. To speak with a project coordinator to request such services, call the LGBT Advocacy Helpline at 212-382-6759.

If you are an attorney and would like to volunteer with the LGBT Advocacy Project, please email the project coordinator, David Preciado. The CBJC is providing a free training titled “Will Preparation for Low-Income New Yorkers” on October 1, 2015, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. You can find more information at this link: http://bit.ly/1NrS5WJ

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