A recent story of a North Texas man that took social media by storm has unique legal issues for same-sex couples across Texas.
Lon Watts says he was forced to move from his home of 12 years, and was banned from caring for his partner who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, after a legal battle with his partner’s family.
While the state still does not recognize same-sex domestic partnerships or marriage, one Austin attorney advises same-sex couples of five legal documents they need to protect themselves in Texas courts.
When Watts' partner of 34 years, Jim, was hospitalized with Alzheimer’s disease, Watts found himself in a jam. His partner's family petitioned a court for guardianship status over his property, even though Watts had signed a power of attorney document and lived with Jim for 12 years.
Claire East, an estate attorney from Hopper Mikeska in Austin, says that same-sex couples in Texas can protect themselves with five basic legal documents.
- Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney: These two documents, East said, allow a partner to make medical and financial decisions for their incapacitated partner. “Those are really important documents. They’re as important as wills,” East said. “The idea with having powers of attorney is you can avoid guardianship.”
- The Declaration of Guardian in the Event of Later Incapability: East said this is a one page document that determines explicit guardians in the event of incapacity. A guardian makes personal decisions like residency and medical treatment, as well as financial decisions and asset management.
- Disposition of Remains: This document allows a person to appoint someone specific to make decisions about his or her remains after death. In the event of death, only a spouse, an adult child, parent or an adult sibling can make funeral arrangements and decisions about a person's remains. East said the state does not recognize same-sex partnerships in these cases.
- Will: East says that without a will (and depending on who owns the home), the partner’s home and assets will be left to immediate family members, instead of a partner, which could mean a contentious situation in which a partner could be forced to move out of a shared home.