John Lestitian, 40, is the chief code compliance officer for the City of Hagerstown in Western Maryland. He previously worked as a police officer and deputy sheriff in Virginia. In 2003, after nearly 14 years together his partner Jim died suddenly at the age of 33.
The home John and Jim shared in Hagerstown was in Jim’s name. Jim had a will leaving his entire estate to John, but it was legally invalid because it was signed by only one witness and Maryland requires two. As a result, John had no rights to his partner’s property. Had John and Jim been able to marry, John would have inherited the home under state laws that automatically protect spouses.
Because John could not afford to purchase his home from Jim’s estate, he was forced to move out in his time of grief.
Jim’s wishes were to have his body cremated and his ashes scattered. He did not want a gravesite. Jim’s family desired interment in his birth state. Because John and Jim were not married, and the will naming John as executor was defective, John was treated as a legal stranger and had to negotiate a compromise with Jim’s family.
In the four years since Jim’s death, John has continued the healing process. He now has another special man in his life, but he worries that without the protection of marriage his new family will always be at risk.