By Lauren Finstone – Legal Aid NSW
Later-life legal planning can be confronting to think about. But for GLBT people it is of particular importance.
Older GLBT people can experience legal problems when a partner becomes incapacitated or dies. Some people may be estranged from their family of origin. Some may have had long-term relationships with people who have not been openly acknowledged or recognised as partners due to fear of homophobia and discrimination.
Many of us may have created extended families of choice with partners, friends or companions whom we would want to play a key decision-making role in the event of our illness, injury or death.
The law recognises that same-sex partners can make medical decisions for us: if a patient cannot give a doctor their consent to medical treatment, the doctor must seek consent from the patient’s ‘person responsible’ — a term that has replaced ‘next of kin’.
However, in many situations people have difficulty ‘proving’ or having their relationships recognised. Many health professionals do not know about the legal right of same-sex partners to claim ‘person responsible’ status or do not accord same-sex relationships the same legitimacy as straight relationships.
If we don’t take steps while we are healthy to ensure that the people we choose will be able to make decisions for us if we lose the mental capacity to decide for ourselves, our wishes may be overridden by others.
Creating valid legal documents for end-of-life care is the best way of ensuring your wishes are carried out.
You can appoint someone to be your financial decision-maker by making an Enduring Power of Attorney. You can appoint someone to make lifestyle decisions for you by appointing them as a guardian under an Enduring Guardian Appointment.
Making a valid will means you can ensure that your assets and belongings will be distributed according to your wishes.
If you die without a will the law has a formula for deciding how your estate will be distributed.
ACON is working with the Inner City Legal Centre, Legal Aid NSW, Council of the Aging NSW, Welfare Rights Centre, Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby NSW and the Aged-Care Rights Service to present two forums on these issues in June.
There will also be the opportunity to have a reduced-cost appointment with a lawyer to have a will, power of attorney and enduring guardian appointment made.
KATOOMBA: Wednesday, June 16, 6pm–8pm at Hotel Gearin (http://hotelgearin.com/), 273 Great Western Highway, Katoomba
SYDNEY: Friday, June 25, 4pm-6pm, The Rex Centre, 58A Macleay St (entrance near Baroda St), Kings Cross
Places are limited so RSVP is essential. Call ACON on 9206 2000 or 1800 063 060.