Building Pillars for your Family – Beyond Marriage Certificates

Published: July 27, 2011

As the LGBTI community in Kenya we are preoccupied in dealing with prejudice and homophobia in society and we sometimes forget cover the bases of our own lives, loved ones and livelihoods.
 
Let me illustrate my point: A Nakuru-based lesbian lost her life partner several years ago and was left with two of the three children she is now raising. Her late partner was formally employed, with a pension and retirement benefits but after her death, her employer refused to recognise her partner as the beneficiary of the pension. The lesbian is now struggling to raise the children even though her partner’s benefits would have gone a long way to help meet the family’s needs.
 
A gay couple based in Mombasa co-owned a matatu (a share taxi) but registered it only in one partner’s name. The father of one of the partners has since then moved into his “unmarried” son’s house and is now running the matatu business on behalf of his son. The partner whose name is not on the registration has been slowly eclipsed from the dynamic, causing tensions in the relationship.
 
These are familiar stories we come across in every day life.
 
“It is very easy for same sex couples to continually say how unprotected they are by the law and how they are at the mercy of illegality and homophobia. On the other hand, it is possible to protect one’s partner and children even in the absence of a marriage certificate,” said Emily, a 39-year-old lesbian and businesswoman based in Nairobi.
 
Same-sex couples who have decided to be together despite all the odds in a country such as Kenya where same-sex unions are not legal, need to know there are simple steps that can be taken to protect each other and safeguard livelihoods.
 
We all have dreams of having our own homes and being financially independent. How do we safeguard and ensure we live to see these dreams come to fruition? As we wait for same-sex couples to be recognised by our government, there are things we can do to show palpable commitment to each other.
 
The first step in showing your partner and dependants your commitment is by fortifying the pillars of your lives together from vulnerabilities like destitution and medical problems. These pillars or cornerstones ensure that relationships are fortified with sound financial decisions. Some of these pillars include having medical insurance, an updated last will and testament, updated tax obligations, savings set aside, life insurance and many others.
 
It is crucial for life partners to have a conversation with a financial advisor who can help them list sources of income, liabilities and assets no matter how big or how small. This will help determine a couple’s net worth at that moment and help identify if there are areas that can be improved. For instance, looking at the kinds of loans that have been procured and if there cheaper ways to get financing (less interest), or perhaps if there is an aspect of spending that can be reduced. A financial advisor will guide you on how to create disposable income that you can set aside and invest.
 
There are several medical insurance companies with a variety of options that are designed for everyone’s pocket. One of the ways same sex couples can work around getting cover is by taking out individual policies.
 
“I am quite fortunate that my organisation is an equal opportunity employer and extends benefits irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. It allowed me to extend medical cover to my partner and our children. I saw the possibility of side stepping hetero-normative restrictions by getting individual cover. Just last year my partner had an operation and was hospitalised for a week and had a medical bill that would have wiped out our savings had she not been on cover. Medical cover is a necessity and should be ranked in the same place as rent and school fees in that order of importance,” explained a Nairobi based lesbian.
 
Children in the relationship would fall under their legal dependant. It is crucial to be covered in case of any medical emergency, no matter how healthy one may be. Same sex couples should ensure that they have updated their National Hospital and Insurance Fund (NHIF) as this helps to subsidize hospitalisation costs. Protect yourself and inquire now about the various options in the market.
 
Many of us do not like talking about death. However, it is important to sit with your life partner and talk about each other’s lives once one partner has passed on. It is especially important if children and other dependants are involved. One of the most effective ways is to be open to essential family and friends about who your partner is.
 
This of course may not be an option for many people, but even if you are in the closet, there are still ways you can protect your partner and children in the event of your death.
 
A candid conversation about the transition when one is deceased makes it much easier for the surviving partner to implement their wishes. A last will and testament is not as complex as it is made out to be, however the lack of a will leaves such a long tedious process of succession as the deceased’s estate goes in what is described in legal terms as “probate.”
 
Keep in mind since same sex couples are not recognised legally, without a will you could be putting your life partner and surviving children in a precarious position. One in which whatever has been built by the couple could be lost.
 
Any assets in the deceased’s name may be snatched by blood relatives in complete disregard of the deceased’s partner and wishes. A good way to protect you and your partner in life and in death is to jointly own property. Also, before the law and society, a partner is not recognised as a legal guardian of the deceased surviving children. A will that names the surviving partner as the administrator of one’s estate and guardian of the children is a good way to counter this. There are a number of LBGTI friendly lawyers who can help draft this important document.
 
Any kind of income that we earn, whether employed or self-employed, has a tax implication. We need to know what this implication is and what obligations we need to make to the taxman to ensure that we are on the right side of the law. The taxman has been known to be ruthless when collecting accrued taxes. Be on the right side of the law.
 
Setting up savings can be an arduous task as many of us live beyond our means. That is why we need to have candid conversations about lifestyle, expectations and set realistic goals looking at our own circumstance.
 
Merry-go-rounds and “chamaas” are hugely popular vehicles of informal savings and investment groups. It is common among those who are in informal employment and in the small and microenterprise sector. Those of us signed up to these schemes need to let the group members know who the benefactor is in case death or incapacitation.
 
It is important for life partners to come up with a budget of expenses and find ways to set aside savings that are built in a safe and relatively inaccessible way that registers good interest earnings. Ideally, it is recommended to always ensure that you always have not less than six to 12 months of your monthly living expenses set aside. This will protect you in case you loose your job or if business growth dips affecting your income. But how do you get to this point? By living a life that is cognisant of your circumstance, keeping the future in mind (a rainy day) and the guidance of a financial advisor.
 
Life, accident and personal insurance cover policies go a long way in protecting you from the blows life throws at you. Life insurance policies are primarily designed to help those you leave behind when you pass away. Please note that you need to find a life cover that can accept your life partner as a benefactor as some insurance companies are finicky and need you to prove that your partner has insurable interest in you. Therefore, when shopping, identify insurance companies that can recognise a person who is not a legal spouse or a blood relative as a benefactor at the event of your death. When it comes to personal insurance, you may cover your household and other personal items protecting them against burglary or theft.
 
We are living in dangerous times and the annual costs to protect your household items are a fraction of the value you bought them at. Find a policy that is affordable and credible and put your mind at ease. Personal Accident covers are polices that provide an easy way to buffer you from destitution in case you are incapacitated (or worst case die) in any kind of accident that may not allow you to work or get a livelihood. Some of these policies are not fussy on who you name as your benefactor reducing the risk of your partner’s exclusion. One needs to go over the various options with a financial advisor so as to get a balanced and objective viewpoint on each policy’s pros and cons. Taking out a policy will go a long way in protecting yourselves from probable tragedy.

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