In my law practice I hear about a lot of bad things that happen to people. The good news is that you can avoid a lot of it by using the laws available to you and doing good legal planning. This article will discuss ways LGBTQ seniors can use the law to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Protect Your Identity
As seniors, we’ve spent years building our credit and that, along with our age, makes us a target for identity theft. One of the best ways to avoid people opening credit cards or getting loans in your name is by locking down your credit (called a Security Freeze) so no one can see your credit score and credit history. It’s free and it’s easy for you to unlock your credit anytime you need. Visit bit.ly/2TQglIf to see how to facilitate this.
The law allows you to choose who will make your medical decisions if you are unable. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to choose whomever you want (who is at least age 18) to act for you. This is particularly important if you do not want a family member to make medical decisions for you. Without this document, your Next of Kin is who the law looks to for your medical decisions. This could be a parent or sibling if you do not have a spouse or adult child. Without a Health Care Power of Attorney, your partner or friend will not be able to make medical decisions for you and could be kept from visiting you in a medical setting. Also, with a Health Care Power of Attorney, you can state what medical care you want and don’t want.
Deadnaming and Misgendering in Medical Settings
Patients in North Carolina are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other protected categories under the Patient Bill of Rights in the North Carolina Administrative Code. When you change your name and/or confirm your gender on your ID documents be sure to provide that information to your doctor and have it included in your medical file. Make sure your medical provider notes the correct information. Insist on being called the correct name and remind providers of your protections under the Patient Bill of Rights. If you have difficulty in a medical setting, call attention to it and contact the hospital administrator, social worker or ombudsman. You can also file a complaint with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings.
Marriage is a wonderful thing… until it costs you your money. Did you know that when you marry, you are agreeing to pay your spouse’s medical bills even if you didn’t sign on to them? So, when she does that “hold my beer” thing that you’ve told her a hundred times that she’s too old to still be doing, you are on the hook for her medical bills. You probably can’t change the law, but you can remind her of that before she does it. On a more serious note, being responsible for medical bills is something to be aware of when considering marrying as a senior when our bodies are aging and we may need expensive medical care. Also, many of us LGBTQ seniors didn’t grow up thinking marriage equality would be a possibility and aren’t educated about how a later in life marriage can affect our children’s inheritance. Talk to an attorney to learn more about your specific situation.
Your Final Wishes
I can’t overstate how important it is for LGBTQ seniors (and others) to do our Wills or other Estate Planning. It is important because then you get to control how your final wishes are handled. The law states that without a Will or other planning, your property will only go to your immediate family members. Your partner and friends will be completely left out — left out of inheritance, left out of decision-making and left out of the ability to carry out your wishes. But, the law also says you can do a Will and say what you want to inherit, who you want to make decisions and who you want to carry out your wishes. Wills are about control, not death. And everyone should have one (or some other plan) no matter how much or how little they own. In a Will, you can take care of your beloved pets, too. Also, you can address someone deadnaming and misgendering you in your obituary, funeral or memorial services, and burial or cremation. Oh, and it isn’t difficult to do a Will with an attorney of your choice.
When you marry, change your name, confirm your gender or have or adopt a child, make sure to tell Social Security and get your records updated. When you are a senior and are considering retirement, contact Social Security to learn more about your benefits. Also, there are new decisions by the Social Security Administration all the time and some may affect LGBTQ seniors. Ask a Social Security representative or an experienced Social Security professional any questions you may have.
While laws that protect against employment discrimination may or may not cover sexual orientation and gender identity (the U.S. Supreme Court has not given a definitive legal answer yet), as a senior, you are protected by laws that cover discrimination in employment based on age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Older Workers Benefit Protection Act are federal employment laws that apply to people over age 40.
It is a fact of life that as we age, some of us may have challenges with our memory or decision-making. As adults, if we can’t handle things, then the law allows us to name someone to step in for us. What’s nice is that we get to choose who we want and what that person can do on our behalf. The legal document is called a Durable Power of Attorney. And even if you are married, the are some legal matters even your spouse cannot do for you without a Durable Power of Attorney. For LGBTQ seniors, we especially need to do this document to protect ourselves from family members who are not supportive of who we are.
This article is just a snapshot of legal matters for LGBTQ seniors. Please talk to an attorney knowledgeable about how the law applies to LGBTQ seniors.
Connie J. Vetter, Attorney at Law, PLLC is an attorney serving the LGBTQIA and Allied Communities in the greater-Charlotte area for 25 years. She is highly respected and sought out for her knowledge of law relating to LGBTQ issues. She can be found at CJVLaw.com.
(Nothing is this column is intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed. Consult an attorney for your legal needs. Information in this column is based on North Carolina law as of Feb. 6, 2019.)