Improving the Legal Standing of Non-Traditional Relationships
We did a little investigating, and found out that there are some steps a non-traditional couple (such as Master/slave) can take short of getting married to improve their legal standing:
- Have a will made up.
- Have drawn up what's called (in California, anyway) a "durable power of attorney for health care" that designates a specific person, and a back-up person, to make decisions regarding health care if one of you cannot not.
- Have drawn up what's called (again, in California) a "general durable power of attorney" that would designate a given person, and a back-up person, to make decisions regarding finances and business affairs. Such a person could sign checks on bank accounts and so forth.
After checking various sources for such documents, including forms sold in office supply stores and forms suggested by an attorney, I was particularly impressed by the information and forms in the Nolo Press book called "The Legal Guide for Gay and Lesbian Couples." Everything was clear and easy to understand, and the forms were far more complete and flexible than the ones from the attorney or the office supply stores.
By the way, Nolo Press puts out a whole line of self-help law books. They also put out a highly informative quarterly newsletter on legal matters that is free for the asking. They can be reached as follows:
950 Parker St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
Compuserve LAWSIG forum, Library 11
America Online Legal SIG library (Keyword LEGAL)
Their store is in the western part of Berkeley, just above Ashby avenue at about the corner of Parker and Ninth Streets. Spending an hour or so browsing in there can be very illuminating.
At the Living in Leather X conference in Portland last year, I went to a panel discussion on "SM and the Law" that was put on by three attorneys. All three recommended that, in addition to the documents recommended above, you prepare a "hospital visitation list" specifying which people you want to be allowed to visit you in the hospital (and also which people you *don't* want to be allowed to visit you). I'd personally suggest that you have such a list notarized.
I have seen a number of "living wills" that specify which procedures someone does or does not want to have performed on them in the case of a medical condition that leaves them unable to speak competently for themselves. The only problem I have with the ones I've seen is that these are often put forth as "no heroic measures" documents when, in fact, many of the procedures described as "heroic" in the document, such as defibrillation and tube feeding, are in fact quite routine and ordinary, but the average lay person is not aware of that.
I strongly suggest that, if you sign such a living will, you first go over it in some detail with a medically informed person. Your personal physician would, of course, be a priority in this respect. However, if they don't have the time to explain each procedure to the extent you need to have it explained, you might also seek out another health professional. The stakes here are high, so it's crucial to have a clear understanding of what you're agreeing to have done, or not done, to you at such an important time in your life. Again, please make sure your personal physician, and others close to you, understand what you do and don't want done, and that these are informed decisions on your part.
Finally, there's the matter of organ donation to consider, and to discuss with those close to you.
These documents, particularly the durable power documents, the hospital visitation list, the organ donation statement, and the living will, should be kept in a place where they can be accessed relatively quickly in the event of an emergency. Therefore, someplace like a safe deposit box may not be a good choice.
I should point out that requirements vary regarding what it takes to make a will, a durable power of attorney for health care, a general durable power of attorney, and the other documents legally valid, and that these requirements also vary from state to state. It would, of course, be an excellent idea to check with an attorney knowledgeable in these specific matters (many just whip out their "boiler-plate" forms, and those forms left me distinctly unimpressed) and who has been admitted to the bar in your particular state.
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