In part 1 I focused on the financials. This time I’ll focus on the medical side of things – specifically hospital visitation.
After getting our Colorado Designated Beneficiary Agreement (DBA) executed two weeks ago I decided it would be a good idea to verify that our Medical Power of Attorney documents included a hospital visitation directive. To my surprise, and panic, they did not. If you’ll recall the DBA allows you to specifically designate the other person with the authority to visit you in the hospital but that document only applies to Colorado. After discovering we did not have any such document for outside Colorado I had them drawn up.
For the uninitiated, most hospital critical care units (ERs, etc) limit visitors to “family members”, with “family” being defined by whomever nurse is the gatekeeper at that particular moment. If you do not meet the arbitrary definition of “family” required by the gatekeeper – you don’t get access. A Hospital Visitation Authorization document is simply a document that codifies your wishes for who should be able to visit you in such a situation.
But lets step back and evaluate the reality of the situation: if you’re needing access to your spouse who is in the ER and unable to voice their desire for your presence, you’re at the mercy of the nurse and their definition of “family”. Waving a legal document in their face might get you past them, but it might not. They could easily just route you to the hospital’s legal department. What would constitute “family” to the average person? Residing at the same address? Maybe – although any two people could be roommates and not be family. My guess is the average person is going to associate two people having the same last name as “family”: either they are married or they are otherwise related.
I think this has implications for any married couple, regardless of their sexual orientation, who do not have the same last name. I’ll point out that not only did our thought exercise not favor access via legal document too highly – reality doesn’t either. It is, however, another tool in the arsenal.
Perhaps it’s time to more seriously revisit making our last names the same (the current winner for that is Parc – no relation to PARC or PARC though).
Last year on July 1st the Colorado Designated Beneficiaries Law went into effect. This law enables any two legal adults to enter into a Designated Beneficiary Agreement (herein referred to as a DBA). The agreement consists of 16 separate rights which can be granted individually between the two people. These rights include things like hospital visitation, transfer of property upon death, ability to sue for wrongful death, etc – many of the things that a Will and/or Power of Attorney would cover. The law specifically indicates that other legal documents, such as Wills and Power of Attorneys, supersede the DBA.
Today Benjamin and I filled out the two page agreement that had been sitting in our kitchen To Do pile for literally 7 months, took it by UMB bank to be notarized, and then drove it down to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office to have it recorded. Total due: $15.50 for the recording that included 3 certified copies — UMB notarized it for free.
I’m sure you’re asking why, if we already have Wills and Durable & Medical Power of Attorneys that supercede large parts of the DBA, did we bother with it at all. The answer is simple: we’re just further hedging our bets should something go wrong. The DBA is one more layer to validate what our wishes are if the Will goes into probate or if one of us is having challenges accessing the other person in a medical situation. $15.50 + $4 parking and an hour of our time was a small price to pay for further peace of mind.
The entire experience was oddly easy and yet slightly insulting. The Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office is in the beautiful Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in downtown. After an early lunch Benjamin and I drove downtown, parked two blocks away, and walked to the Webb building. We conveniently walked into the entrance that was immediately adjacent to the Clerk and Recorder’s office. That was the easy part.
The Recorder’s office was empty — we were two of only a handful of people in the office. It was also pleasantly well labeled as the row of clerks closest to the door had a sign above them labeled “Marriage Licenses” or something very similar. Instinctively I knew that while were in the right office, the women behind the desk were not going to be able to help me with my DBA. Despite that I walked up to an available clerk and inquired as to where I should go to have my DBA recorded. She cheerfully instructed me to go down the hall to the second desk on the right where they could help me. What was the sign above the clerk who was able to assist with my DBA? “Real Estate Records”. That was rather insulting: in order to get almost-domestic-partner-level rights in Colorado I had to walk past the Marriage Licenses desk in the front of the Recorder’s office, down a hallway to a woman behind a Real Estate Records desk.
The woman who helped us was, while not rude, not overly friendly although she did faithfully record our document and kept a kind demeanor despite her office equipment not cooperating.
As we walked out of the Webb building I commented to Benjamin that the DBA is the closest thing to Marriage that we currently have and are able to obtain within Colorado. I’m grateful that we have the option of a DBA in Colorado but the experience reinforces my feeling of a second-class citizen.
There’s a very logical reason why I want to get legally married to my husband: I want to protect my family. Those of you not familiar with the legal rights granted by that $50 marriage certificate might be thinking I’m being dramatic — but I’m not.
Despite Benjamin and I having Wills, there’s absolutely nothing to prevent one of our families from contesting them should one of us die. Given the behavior of my family over the last year this is not a passive concern. In a worst-case scenario I die and our joint assets are frozen during probate and Benjamin is kicked out of our home if my family “wins”. We’ve taken as many steps as possible to prevent that including the aforementioned Wills and life insurance policies with Benjamin as the primary beneficiary (life insurance policies are contractual documents that bypass Wills unless the insurance beneficiary falls through to the estate). If a spouse of a legally married couple dies the person’s assets transfer seamlessly to the surviving spouse.
Enough about death, lets talk about life. It’s a good thing I like wading through the tax morass ’cause as a non-legally married couple it is an amazingly hard slog. Lets say I want to further hedge my bets against a worst-case “Casey dies” scenario by transferring some of my assets over to Benjamin while I’m alive. Because he and I aren’t legally married I can only transfer ~$13k/year to him tax-free — anything over that amount he would need to pay a gift tax. Married couples can throw however much money they want at each other and not suffer the tax hit.
Lets talk about retirement. When Benjamin was working at the bank, prior to becoming a full-time student, we were actively contributing to his Roth IRA. When he became a full-time student he wasn’t eligible to contribute to his IRA because he wasn’t earning any income. If we were legally married I could have contributed to his IRA (via the “spousal IRA“) for the past three years. This is unfortunate as we missed some pretty good growth opportunities due to how low the market was during that time. A friend had mentioned that I could have hired him for some position and paid him enough money to max out his yearly IRA contributions. The two downsides to that are 1) he would have had to pay taxes on the amount and 2) it could have decreased or removed his ability to obtain grants, scholarships, and/or loans.
Those are the three big financial reasons that jumped immediately to mind this morning – I’m sure there are other financial reasons that I’m not thinking of at the moment.