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Estate planning considerations for less traditional families

New York state is among the 14 states in the U.S. that legally recognize gay marriage. This number, however, is expected to grow in the coming years as more states push for the rights of same-sex couples to wed and enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. Regardless of sexual orientation, there are numerous estate planning matters that every individual must consider when making decisions related to their health, wealth and legacy.

Today's modern American families are often complex and not easily defined. Gone are the days when, for most, the term family equated to a married man and women with two children. Today's families are composed of unmarried parents, step-children and domestic partnerships. Unfortunately, many estate planning documents are still largely geared towards more traditional families.

Individuals with less traditional family circumstances must take great care when making estate planning decisions. For example, most traditional estate planning documents assume an individual is married and will therefore leave the bulk of wealth to a surviving spouse. This can create issues in cases where individuals are not married or live in states where their marriage isn't legally recognized.

For individuals with more unique family structures, there are several key elements that should be addressed. For example, there are severe tax implications tied to leaving retirement or investment assets to an individual who is not legally recognized as a spouse. Likewise, additional documentation is necessary for unwed partners who wish to leave employment- related benefits to a partner.

As the American familial structure continues to evolve, so too will laws related to estate planning matters. In the meantime, it's wise for same-sex couples, unwed couples and single individuals to meet with an estate planning professional who can answer questions and provide advice on how to pass as much wealth on to intended loved ones.

Source: Forbes, "Breaking Tradition: Planning Strategies For Today's Family," Oct. 14, 2013

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