Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking
behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.
I'm in a wonderful relationship and we've been
living together for almost three years. My partner's started talking about how
we need to write wills and get powers of attorney for each other. I don't
understand what that's so important: we're both young and healthy, and we don't
have much money so there's nothing much to leave anyone. Is my partner too hung
up on death?
That's an excellent and important question! I
try to be educated on those issues, but I'm not a lawyer, so this is a
psychologist's answer, not a legal opinion.
From the information you've given me, it doesn't
sound like your partner is hung up on death, but rather on getting answers to
hard questions. Some of the questions you can answer in a will and a power of
attorney are: What happens to your body when you die? Who is responsible for
wrapping up your affairs? Who is responsible for seeing that your bequests are
distributed in the way you wanted? Who is responsible for making medical
decisions for you if you are unable to do so? Who is to be your guardian if you
become unable to manage on your own?
In other words, those documents allow you to
decide who will be treated as next of kin if you die or are disabled. If you
don't have a will or power of attorney, your next of kin is whoever the law says
it is. I think that's usually your adult children, if any, or your parents.
There have been cases where a gay man or lesbian has died and the parents have
not let the surviving partner have access to the home a couple shared or
possessions that have only sentimental value.
You're young and healthy, so it's hard to see
the importance of writing a will or designating a guardian for a disability that
may never happen. However, no one can predict the future or prevent disasters
like traffic accidents. I suggest you (1) check with a lawyer who is familiar
with lesbian and gay legal concerns, or (2) consult a good book on the subject
(for example, the book entitled, A Legal Guide for Lesbians and Gay Couples
by Attorneys Hayden Curry & Denis Cifford, printed by Nolo Press Self-help
Law is a good reference and source of sample documents) to find out what those
documents can do and what it means to be without them. Then make an informed
decision about what you want.
Author and psychologist Gail S. Bernstein,
Ph.D. has a psychotherapy practice in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Bernstein speaks
and writes about gay, lesbian and bisexual people for both general and professional
audiences, and is the author of the new audiotape, NOT
HETEROSEXUAL: An Educational Program About Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People.