The Christensen Group PLLC

The Christensen Group PLLC

Estate Planning for Alternative Lifestyles*

By: Pattie S. Christensen

Whether or how one uses the term “alternative lifestyle” aside, the laws  surrounding estate planning are predicated on a certain family structure. That family  structure in many cases does not exist and so particular attention needs to be focused on  estate planning. 

For example, the current federal estate tax system allows for an unlimited marital  deduction from estate taxes. In other words, you can be as rich as Bill Gates, but if you  leave all that money to a surviving spouse, there is no federal estate tax. Because the  federal estate tax is governed by federal law, the federal definition of marriage governs.  The federal definition of marriage was “only a legal union between one man and one  woman as husband and wife.” (USC 1.7) but that was ruled unconstitutional. So  marriage is essentially defined by state law. If your family does not fall into that  definition, the unlimited marital deduction is not available to you and different planning  techniques need to be made. 

In addition, federal and state laws have certain default provisions. For example, if  you die without a Will (called dying “intestate”), the applicable state will have default  provisions as to what happens to your assets. That may or may not be in keeping with  your personal desires, particularly if you have an “alternative lifestyle.” In most states,  the default distribution is to (1) a legally recognized spouse (if any), else (2) legal  children (if any), and so on down the blood line. 

Also, there are certain rights that are granted by federal and state laws to a  “spouse” automatically, such as a homestead allowance. If you do not have a spouse (as  it is defined), your significant other will not have those automatic rights. 

Estate planning for many people can be a difficult topic. Many people choose to  ignore estate planning because it is too “morbid.” However, as can be seen above, if you  have an alternative lifestyle, you need to take an active role in predetermining your estate  plan, from determining who can help make medical decisions for you to who gets your  “stuff” when you are gone. 

*For purposes of this article, “alternative lifestyle” encompasses anything other than a  legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

Pattie S. Christensen

After a stint as an air traffic controller, Pattie Christensen began practicing law in 1997. She found the traditional law firm approach to be too inconvenient and costly for clients. To better serve her clients, Pattie became a sole practitioner starting in 2000.

Ms. Christensen is an attorney with twenty five years of experience. Her practice emphasizes estate and business planning. She has composed several publications for use in continuing public education courses on the topics of businesses, trusts and charitable giving. Ms. Christensen has acted as general counsel for a number of companies.