Helping aging LGBT parents

Published: September 28, 2011

How do we help our parents as they age? For adults with non-LGBT parents, there are plenty of resources on how to help parents through the various legal, financial, and emotional issues of growing old. Search the web or your favorite online bookstore for "aging parents," and you’ll be swamped with results.

For adults who wish to help their LGBT parents, however, the resources are far fewer. And while many of the issues older LGBT and non-LGBT people face are the same, some are not.

Let’s not forget: LGBT parents have been choosing to have children together for over 30 years. Those who had children in previous non-LGBT relationships may have had them even before that. Those "children" now in their 30s or older have parents who, if not in their "golden years," are at least starting to turn silver.

Scott French, program manager for the Caring and Preparing program of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), said one of the most important things adults with LGBT parents can do is "to have conversations about making sure that your parents have a health-care proxy, a power of attorney, a living will," and a document (called by various names) about what they want done with their bodies after death.

"These are important for everyone, but they’re really important for LGBT older adults, especially if they’re partnered," he said. Unlike opposite-sex spouses, "there is no person who automatically gets to make those decisions" for LGBT older adults.

He also encourages people to talk with their parents about a will. Many people think they don’t need a will if they aren’t wealthy, French said, but noted, "Wills aren’t predicated on somebody who has wealth. They’re essential to be able to dictate what you want to happen to your possessions, whatever they may be." And for people in same-sex couples, "you don’t always have the same protections, so it’s always better to have it in writing."

Children of LGBT parents should also discuss with their parents how the finances will be distributed in the will and whose name they are in now, he said. He suggested talking with a lawyer and/or a financial planner "to ensure that if they’re partnered, the surviving partner is taken care of, because inheritance rules oftentimes don’t apply." Pensions and other items that naturally transfer to an opposite-sex spouse may not transfer to a same-sex one, or may not do so without a financial penalty, even if they are legally married or have a civil union or domestic partnership. Attorneys and financial planners may be able to set up trusts or recommend various other strategies to protect assets and avoid taxes.

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