Legal Alerts - March 2000
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"Gay Man Barred From Inheriting Lover's Estate"

This was the headline of a news article which appeared in the San Francisco newspapers in late February, and I suppose we should be heartened by the fact that this made news. Making news implies that there is something unusual or wrong about this event, and while it is clear to me that there is something terribly wrong about this event, I'm afraid it's not all that unusual.

The story is a common one. A man shared a home, a business and some financial assets with his lover of twenty-eight years -- that's twenty-eight years, longer than many of us have even been adults -- lost them all, because his lover (who presumably was the named owner on the property) died without a will. As a result, the property all went to the decedent's "legal" family (siblings, presumably) and nothing went to the lover.

The lover actually had a chance of winning his case, however, because Washington state is one of the few places which still recognizes non-marital partnerships in several legal settings. However, the Court of Appeals decided that common-law marriage would only protect heterosexual partners, not gay partners. The Washington Supreme Court could overturn this decision, but the message should be loud and clear: if you care about your partner, make a will and sign it.

In fact, the power of this recent headline was brought home to me when a friend of mine called me within an hour of reading the news to say he'd finally gotten scared enough to make a will, and to encourage his lover to do the same. If there is anything good that can come out of such miserable news, it is that this will motivate others to take care of their legal affairs.

When making a will, remember the following general principles:

1. Most states allow you to write a handwritten will, so long as it is ENTIRELY in your own handwriting (there shouldn't even be printed letterhead used!) and clearly dated and signed by you, and clearly stating that this is your will (as opposed to a general statement about your feelings about death and your possessions!). There's no harm in writing a handwritten will, but don't count on it being valid in your particular state.

2. Immediately on completing your handwritten will, proceed to do a more formal will. You can use computer assisted books or programs in some states, but if you have any valuable possessions go see an attorney. This is not usually an expensive venture for most folks, and it is worth the investment if you think there will be any challenges or if you are uncertain about the legal rules for your particular state. Make sure you expressly revoke the handwritten will when you sign the new will, so there is no doubt as to which is the "real" will.

California Continuing Education Seminar for Lawyers

In what is certainly one of the first of its kind presented by a mainstream legal educational group, the Continuing Education of the Bar program of the State Bar of California has convened a series of day-long workshops on the legal rights of unmarried couples, straight and gay. Organized by Virginia Palmer of Oakland's Fitzgerald, Abbot & Beardsley, the panel of instructors included Virginia Palmer, Sandra Blair and Mark Senick of San Francisco, Elizabeth Hendrickson and Frederick Hertz of Oakland, and Emeryville mediator Martina Reaves.

The panel's presentations included the key topics of interest to unmarried couples: ethical considerations, real property and financial asset issues in the formation and dissolution of relationships, legal issues relating to children (both during the formation and the dissolution of relationships), estate planning, and alternative dispute resolution methods. The seminar was held in both Sacramento and San Francisco, and may be repeated in southern California later this year.

CEB has compiled a resource book, and the book and tapes of the panel's presentation can be obtained from CEB's office in Berkeley, telephone number 1-800-CEB-3444,

For the full text of the recent Vermont decision on gay marriage, go to:

For those wanting to do further research in these and other areas of interest, check out these valuable legal resources on the internet:
This is the site of Boston's Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, an excellent public-interest law firm serving the gay community. GLAD also recently issued Guidelines for resolving child custody disputes in our community.
This site features news on the efforts in France to establish a broad network of legal protections and financial benefits to domestic partners.,
This sites features current news and articles compiled by the National Center for Lesbian Rights
This site offers the monthly Lesbian/Gay Law Notes, a newsletter published by the New York lesbian/gay bar association:
The Queer Resources Directory is an excellent site, with links to a wide variety of political, social and legal groups.
This is the site of the Partners Task Force, a wonderful Seattle-based group which is working to expand support for same-sex couples.
This site contains a wealth of resources for couples including essays, access to decisions and statutes worldwide, and directories of attorneys.

Legal Disclaimer

General information provided at this site should not be treated as legal advice applicable in your particular situation. Every situation presents its own facts and circumstances, and the law may be very different depending upon where you live. By accessing this site, you are acknowledging that Frederick Hertz is not agreeing to act for you in any capacity nor providing you with any legal advice, and that you are not a client of Frederick Hertz. If you reside in California and wish to retain the services of Frederick Hertz, you may contact him at and make an appointment to meet with him.