AgingGLBT Community The Part 2 of 3 by Lorna Doone Brewer T oday's older gay population is in a unique situation when it comes to preparing for retirement and beyond. As a collective, this group has continually paved the way for those who would come after. From civil rights marches to Stonewall, this is the first generation of truly "out" individuals. And, after decades of trailblazing, they're still leading the way right into the golden years. Because of their position in history, this group really has no previous generation to look to for guidance. They are facing issues that are unprecedented, especially in the eyes of the greater public. Where heterosexuals are generally able to model their retirements after their parents', that is not necessarily the case for the GLBT community. We have entered an era where rights for same-sex partners are not only possible, but are often expected. Many people are learning the hard way, however, that it takes some preparation to guarantee those rights. Dick Sayre of Sayre & Sayre Attorneys at Law in Spokane is an Elder Law Professional in Spokane, and his experience extends to representing aging gays and lesbians on a variety of issues. "I could tell you some horror stories," he says before doing just that. He continually sees situations where a surviving partner is driven from his or her home due to Medicare, disgruntled family members, or any other combination of (usually avoidable) circumstances. He talks of life-long partners who are unable to be present at each others' deathbeds and of homophobic families who use extremely underhanded tactics to cut a partner out of the will. "When money's involved," he warns, "nobody's pleasant, everybody goes crazy, and no one takes care of anybody." Consider a Domestic Partnership Sayre's number one piece of advice for those in committed relationships is to register for a domestic partnership. Obviously, this isn't a decision that should be made lightly, as the rights afforded by a domestic partnership extend right on through dealing with "divorce" issues if the partnership ends up being dissolved later. "You don't want to do this willy-nilly," Sayre says. "You want to do it with someone you plan to spend the rest of your life with." For those who make the commitment, however, there are some major benefits. Q View contributor Coke Roth is also an attorney with an expertise in Estate and Relationship Planning. As the Principal for the Roth*Coleman Law Office, he explains in more depth what a domestic partnership is all about. For most intents and purposes, a domestic partnership in Washington designates that each of the partners should be legally treated as a "spouse." This is great news in many regards, but Roth warns against being complacent just because you have registered. He strongly advises that couples, whether in a marriage or a domestic partnership, augment their protection by creating wills and powers of attorney. He feels that gay couples are especially at risk if they haven't taken the extra measures. "Despite the fact that the legislature has created this quasi-marital situation for samesex couples," he says, "due to complex family dynamics with same-sex partners--like former children, siblings who don't agree with their lifestyle, parents who have disowned them, and so on-- they need even more protection than heterosexual couples." Still, the designation of "spouse" is extremely important, as in cases of medical decisions, the spouse is the person doctors consult. Because of HIPAA requirements, there are very strict policies regarding the release of medical information. If the sick or injured party does not have a spouse, power goes next to any children, then to parents, and finally to siblings. Note that "life-partner of 35 years" is nowhere in the chain of command. With a domestic partnership registration, you are able to show a wallet card that indicates you are to be treated as the patient's spouse in all medical dealings. Aging continued on page 8 | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | February 2009 |