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Looking Out: Free State Legal offering estate planning for LGBT community

Legal disparities in how our nation's legal system deals with straight individuals and couples versus lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and couples are still a part of life, despite the fact that Maryland and many other states now recognize same-sex marriage.

They are also a part of death -- and something the state's LGBT legal advocacy organization Free State Legal is hoping to minimize for members of Maryland's large LGBT community by providing assistance in creating wills and broader estate plans.

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"Estate planning is important for everyone, but especially for LGBTQ people," said Rebecca Simpson, a staff attorney at Free State. "Even for smaller estates, that can be important in determining what's going to happen with not only your stuff, but with you."

The group, based in Baltimore, serves LGBT people from the broader region, particularly low income members of the community, and has been organizing for a big event where they plan to pair attorneys with clients in need of estate planning.

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The event had been scheduled for Jan. 14, but has been postponed in part because some of clients who had expressed interest in attending could not make that date, Simpson said. A new date has not yet been decided on, but those interested in attending -- including attorneys willing and able to help out -- are asked to call Free State at 410-625-5428.

For years, in part through the marriage movement, LGBT couples have won more legal rights, but there are still some wishes that -- if officially recorded in a will or other legal document -- stand a better chance of being honored than if never written down, Simpson said.

Such planning can be important for couples who want their spouse or significant other to have power of attorney or be able to make health decisions for them if they are incapacitated, Simpson said. Free State attorneys have even heard stories of transgender people dying and then being dressed in an open casket ceremony in clothing of the opposite gender from the one they identified -- an after-death experience that could be avoided through proper planning.

"Estate planning protects you, it gives you the control of what's going to happen," Simpson said.

That control can be reassuring for people whose relationships aren't legally protected fully, for people who have had a falling out with their most immediate biological family members who could otherwise be left to make decisions, and for LGBT parents of young children -- especially those who are not biologically related to their kids.

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Couples who have married since writing an existing will or estate plan, or those with a plan who are now looking to start a family, are also probably due for an update, Simpson said.

So let her know if you're interested. It could be a do-or-die-unprepared situation.

Elsewhere in LGBT-related news:

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- Speaking of Looking Out: As my former colleague Michael Gold did with Season 1, I'll be reviewing Season 2 of HBO's series "Looking" here on the blog. The premiere is Sunday.

- There could be some big same-sex marriage news in coming days -- including from SCOTUS -- so watch out. We're at 36 states plus D.C. and counting where it's legal. Quite a year.

- This headline over at the Advocate, well, caught our eye: "Conservative Pundit Equates Paris Terrorism with Gay 'Terrorists' in Atlanta."

- If you're a business owner, it turns out being LGBT as well might provide a bit of a competitive edge.


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