Estate Planning for Dummies – The Important Steps You May Have Already Taken

Estate Planning for Dummies explains the most basic estate planning tools, many of which you may have already implemented without even knowing it.

Estate planning for dummies is a misnomer.  Because the premise of this article is that you may have sufficient estate planning in place, you are clearly not dummies.  But understanding how to make the most of your estate plan, will ensure that you and your family are protected in case the unforeseen occurs.

Do I need a Will?”  This is usually the first question asked by clients.  The short answer is yes and, to better understand why, it is important to know the protections that a Will provides.  A Last Will and Testament is the cornerstone to a comprehensive estate plan.  Whether you have children or not you do have assets.  Depending on their size, more complex planning may be required.  But the key to knowing whether you have unwittingly begun work on your estate plan, you must know what property passes under a Will.estate planning basics

Probate Asset v. Non-Probate Assets

Wills cover probate assets, or assets held solely in your name. Examples include real property, bank accounts and personal belongings. Personal belongings are key because many people do not like the idea of a distant relative rooting through their most cherished items after death. Wills do not pass non-probate assets, or assets held jointly with someone else (like a bank account or real property held as a married couple or as joint tenants), assets held in trust for someone else or any asset that has a designated beneficiary, like an insurance policy, a 401(k) or an IRA retirement plan.

The goal of a good estate plan for a married couple is to maximize you non-probate asset designations.  If done correctly, there will be no need for a probate process upon the death of the first spouse.  Probate is the process by which the state of a decedent ensures that their Last Will and Testament was drafted and executed correctly, that the assets and debts of the decedent, the person who died, are identified, that the debts are paid and the assets are distributed according the decedent’s Will. The New York probate process governs the transfer of legal title of property from the estate of the person who has died to those named in that person’s Last Will and Testament.

If you are married and your home is listed in both spouses’ names, then the house will pass automatically to the surviving spouse with no need for probate.  Likewise, if you have joint bank accounts, the assets in those accounts pass outside of probate.

right of survivorship, JTWROS, joint tenantsMany city couples rent their apartments, making their most valuable assets their investment or retirement accounts.  For these investment vehicles, you may name your spouse, or partner if you are unmarried, as a designated beneficiary.  You may also name multiple designated beneficiaries as long as the percentage allocations are clear to the administrator of the investment/retirement account.

Estate planning for dummies = the maximization of non-probate asset designations.  It is the best tool you have to avoid probate.  And while this type of specific planning may allay the need for a Will, it is always a good idea to have a Will in place, even if you do not need to put that Will through probate.  If you are unmarried, it is of particular importance that you have a Will because the protections of marriage, which include naming the surviving spouse as the default beneficiary of a decedent’s assets, will not apply to you and your partner.

For more information, visit www.timeforfamilies.com or email Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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Reaching Across the Uterus

Politics pops up in the oddest places. And like a song that gets stuck in your head, it refuses to be ignored.

“She’s having my baby…” That’s the one I’ve been humming lately because my husband Gary and I are taking the plunge into full-on parenthood and, at age 46, some would say we’re crazy. Piper, our three year old, is in every meaningful sense of the word, our daughter. But legally she only has two parents, and they are her mothers. With many options before us, Gary and I choose surrogacy.

Inviting a “team” to help you have a baby is not as nontraditional as some may think. As Hillary said, “it takes a village.” But our lack of girl-parts makes the process an e-ticket ride to say the least. Every person I have spoken with about their experience with surrogacy has said that the relationship you form with the surrogate mother, clinically referred to as the carrier, is unique, emotionally overpowering and absolutely specific to the individuals involved. Amen to that.Anthony Brown

What I didn’t count on was falling for a carrier of the republican persuasion. I am about as political as a gay-lawyer-activist can be. It is funny that when Gary and I were looking at the profiles of egg donors and gestational carriers, political affiliation wasn’t even a consideration. We were looking for all the elements of a person that demonstrate trust, love and happiness. For us, politics didn’t enter into it, until recently.

Suzanna, our carrier, lives in rural North Carolina with her husband Jonathan. She is everything and more that we could have hoped for in a surrogate. She is direct and at peace with surrendering her parental rights when the child is born. She has an absolutely beautiful smile and laugh that are the signs of a person who is loved and supported. She has two wonderful, healthy children who Gary and I fell in love with instantaneously and, best of all, she has a sense of humor about the process.

When we first met, Jonathan kidded about looking forward to someone touching Suzanna’s pregnant belly and asking, “when is she due?” Jonathan relished at the prospect of answering, “I dunno, it’s not mine.” Then Suzanna said, “Yea, then I can say, don’t look at me, it’s not mine either.”

But recently, Suzanna forwarded to us one of those anti-Obama emails that have made the rounds misrepresenting his positions on several issues and taking out-of-context shots at his voting record. I know that some people forward emails without reading them completely. I also know that we never talked politics up until that moment, but one of the misrepresentations in the letter was that Obama supported gay marriage and John McCain did not. Well… Deep breath…

KNEE JERK – I sat down at the computer and typed for over an hour. After I pressed send, I thought to myself, “Oh shit, I just lost our carrier.” I don’t think Suzanna expected a two-page response debunking the email she sent, with citations to accurate information and a personal note asking why she would think Gary and I would support anyone who would not support our marriage, which was a key factor in her choosing to work with us in the first place.

To Suzanna’s credit, she sent one of the most thoughtful and detailed responses, acknowledging that she had not completely read through what she had sent, and apologizing for any distress that it may have caused us. She then laid out her positions on a number of issues, she disagrees with the conservatives about marriage equality – thank God, and demonstrated the intelligence and the spirit that Gary and I were drawn to when we first read her profile and went to North Carolina to meet. All of the sudden, we were talking politics. And I loved it.

I have always believed in communication, about equality and about politics. But when it comes to family, even nontraditional family, it’s tough. Now, Suzanna and Jonathan know how we feel, and more importantly, we know how they feel. Agreement is not always possible, and when people are on opposite sides of the political fence, it is often rare. But agreement isn’t a prerequisite for communication. And as Suzanna and Jonathan are now a part of “the village,” there is no reason to stay silent.

I originally published this article in 2008 after working on the Obama campaign but I am revisiting it now because there are so many paralells to the misinformation that has been spread in the current political climate.  I hope that you find something meaningful here.

May 30, 2017 -To share your personal story, please visit timeforfamilies.com.

Marital Trust Planning – Making the Most of Your Money

Marital Trust planning is essential for those couples who are concerned about protecting surviving family members, especially children, and avoiding estate taxation.

Marital Trust planning is the use of trusts to achieve the goals of asset preservation and family protection.  The term, “Marital Trust” is used in this article to discuss both marital trusts and non-marital trusts

What is a Marital Trust?  There are essentially three types of marital trusts.  QTIP (Qualified Terminal Interest Property) Trusts, Estate Trusts and General Power of Appointment Trusts.  Each has a specific targeted goal, but the reason why someone would consider a Marital Trust is to provide for their surviving spouse and children.marital trust

A QTIP Trust, in most cases, is funded upon the death of one spouse and directs payments of interest income, on at least an annual basis, to the surviving spouse.  The remainder in the trust then passes upon the death of the surviving spouse to the children of the original Grantor.  The benefit of this trust is that it allows someone with children from a previous marriage to ensure that those children are provided for, while also providing for a surviving spouse.  An Estate Trust essentially does the same thing, but requires the remainder to be passed through the surviving spouse’s estate, giving the surviving spouse greater discretion in the allocation of the original asset.  A General Power of Appointment Trust is appropriate if there are no children and gives the surviving spouse access to the full amount in the trust during their lifetime.

The most important element of a Marital Trust to remember is that it does not shield assets from estate taxation.  They simply postpone the taxation event until the death of the surviving spouse, as there is a unlimited marital exemption upon the death of the first spouse.   Assets in a marital trust pass subject to any applicable estate tax guidelines.  This is particularly important for QTIP Trusts as they may contain assets earmarked for the children of the Grantor, but are potentially diminished by estate taxation.  To shield assets from estate taxation, you must have a Non-Martial Trust.

What is a Non-Marital Trust?  Non-Marital Trusts are often referred to as “Credit Shelter Trusts” or “Bypass Trusts.” These trusts allow the Grantor to provide income to their surviving spouse, while ultimately passing assets to the Grantor’s children   

Bypass Trusts are irrevocable trusts that can be created during the lifetime of the Grantor or in the Grantor’s Last Will and Testament.  If they are created in a Grantor’s Will, they become irrevocable upon the death of the grantor.  The trust is funded with an amount equal to the annual exclusion applicable in the year of the Grantor’s death.  In 2017, the annual exclusion amount is $5.49 million dollars.  A surviving spouse will have access to interest income from the trust and also the trust principal, but only for the surviving spouse’s health, education, maintenance or support.  Upon the death of the surviving spouse, the trust remainder passes to the original Grantor’s children tax free.

One important note with Bypass Trusts is that the IRS has a three year look back period for tax free transfers.  That means that if the surviving spouse dies within three years of the original Grantor’s death, the assets will be subject to estate taxation.  Also, if a family residence is transferred into a Bypass Trust, it will receive the stepped-up value as of the date of the Grantor’s death.  However, if the value of the residence continues to increase, any gain attributed from the date of the Grantor’s death to the distribution to beneficiaries will be subject to capital gains tax.  A Bypass Trust cannot claim the $250,000.00 personal capital gains exemption.

Surviving spouses are often named as trustees, which makes compliance with tax requirement critical in both the drafting of Bypass Trusts and in their execution after the original Grantor’s death.  That’s why it is crucial to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when considering Marital and Non-Marital Trusts.  Remember that a strong basic estate plan is also a must for any family.

For more information, email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com.

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Second Parent Adoption Necessity: Securing Parentage in Uncertain Times

Second parent adoption necessity has become the primary topic of discussion for me both at work and in my private life. 

Is there a second parent adoption necessity?  Everyone wants to know whether their family is safe.  Since January 2017, I have received more calls from parents who have not gone through the second parent adoption process for whatever reason and are now concerned that their children may be the ones who suffer from the lack of clear and incontrovertible parentage; a parentage that second parent adoption provides.

Why do I have to adopt my own child?  Many gay and lesbian parents are asking this question when attempting to understand the second parent adoption necessity.  In New York, married lesbian couples who have used anonymous sperm donors are allowed to be listed as a parent on their child’s birth certificate.  Gay couples who have children with the help of a surrogate mother may have petitioned for and received a pre or post-birth order declaring them the legal parents of their children.  They may also be on their children’s birth certificate.  So why is second parent adoption a necessity?second parent adoption necessity

The answer to this question is perhaps the most confounding that I have had to provide clients and friends.  If you can guarantee that your relationship will never end in divorce or dissolution and that, if it does, both individuals will prioritize the best interests of the child first and foremost, then perhaps you can get by without a second parent adoption.  But the reality of a relationship ending is never certain and, unfortunately, the non-genetically related parent is vulnerable to what may be costly and emotionally terrifying consequences.  While the few cases we have seen that have addressed the issue of the validity of a pre or post-birth order have ultimately upheld those orders, those cases cost the litigants tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This is because every jurisdiction has different laws around parentage, some more friendly than others.

With a second parent adoption, there is no question about the parentage rights of a non-genetically related parent.  Even with recent New York case law protecting non-adoptive lesbian parents, there remains questions about what rights other than the standing to sue for custody and visitation exist without adoption.  Federal social security benefits attach to “natural or adopted” children.  Inheritance rights attach to “natural or adopted” children.  Without adoption, future clarification will be needed to accurately assess when parentage exists.

Assisted Reproductive Technology and Gay Families – Sometimes it feels  like we are all just waiting for the law to catch up to how gay and lesbian couples have their families.  One recent decision from Brooklyn, Kings County Family Court to be precise, describes this issue masterfully and concludes that second parent adoption is the one way to ensure that couples are protected as state courts and legislatures grapple with assisted reproductive technology (ART) issues.

While the court in this decision confirms that a parental relationship exists in most cases with or without the adoption, it also holds that married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to second parent adoptions to expel any doubt about parentage and to protect families, particularly when they travel throughout the country and around the world.  The good news is that in many states, New York included, a marriage is not a prerequisite for a second parent adoption.

Whether you are a lesbian couple with a known donor or an anonymous donor, or whether you are a gay couple with a surrogate mother and a pre or post-birth order, the second parent adoption necessity is very real.  Second parent adoption is the right choice to make to protect your family from any future uncertainties.

For more information, email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com for more information.

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The LGBT Trump Disconnect

The LGBT Trump disconnect is real and attention must be paid to what appears to be the beginning of a not so veiled assault on LGBT rights in America.

First, I must say that there is an LGBT Trump disconnect.  Since I wrote my first piece about LGBT family rights in the Trump presidency, a lot has changed.  I have heard from many people, and I myself wanted to believe, that Trump wouldn’t touch the LGBT gains that we have made during the Obama years.  But his actions have proven different.  His appointments, activity in state courts and the often unintelligible rhetoric we have become accustomed, all suggest that we may not be as safe as some thought we were.

The Appointment Problem – My greatest fears about Trump’s appointments center around the Department of Justice (DOJ), and more specifically, around the civil rights division of the that agency.  First, the long and telling history of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Republican Senator from Alabama who President Trump has tapped to lead the DOJ, is troubling for many more that just LGBT Americans.  According to The Washington Post, Jeff Sessions has claimed to be a civil rights champion, yet he has overstated his experience and, in some cases, lied altogether about his involvement.  Sessions has spent the majority of his career attempting to undermine LGBT equality, the details of which are numerous and troubling.

But the worst of this story is that President Trump has chosen John M. Gore to head the DOJ’s Civil Right s division.  Mr. Gore, prior to this nomination, was in the process of defending North Carolina’s odious trans-bathroom bill.  Prior to that, he defended Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts in violation of the civil rights of minority Americans.       This is not only putting the fox in charge of the hen house, but the hens in this analogy are real people who have had their civil rights violated in what should be the most fundamental right this country possesses – the right to vote.  How can they now trust that their best interests will be defended by a person who, up to now, has made a career out of challenging these fundamental rights?

The Visibility Problem – One of the first signs that there might be a distance between Trump’s “accepting” rhetoric toward the LGBT community during the campaign and what he plans to do as president appeared, or rather disappeared, within the first hour after he was sworn in.  The official White House website, www.whitehouse.gov, removed the LGBT rights page which had been there throughout Obama’s last term, and before.  No explanation was given, however, the pro-Trump Twittersphere rejoiced.LGBT Trump

In an equally expedient manner, all data regarding climate change was removed as well from the whitehouse.gov site.  As most LGBT Americans are not one issue voters, this deletion concerned me as much as the LGBT page being removed.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” seems to be the rule of law now.

The Marriage Issue – I referred earlier to things having changed since I wrote LGBT Family Rights in a Trump Presidency.  At that time, the Supreme Court of Texas had declined to re-hear a case which would abolish benefits that the City of Houston provides to same-sex married couples. Literally on Trump’s inauguration day, the Supreme Court of Texas changed its mind, under GOP pressure.  The Republican Governor of Texas himself wrote a brief to the court asking them to reconsider, essentially arguing that the Obergefell Supreme Court marriage decision does not apply to Texas.  In that brief, the Governor wrote of the “Federal Tyranny” of the courts and that Obergefell does not require that same-sex married couples and different-sex married couples receive equal treatment under the law.

In my previous article, I was originally at a loss for identifying a case with a fact pattern that would make it to the Supreme Court which would have the effect of etching away at the Obergefell marriage decision.  This Texas case may be just that.  It would undoubtedly take time to make it to the Supreme Court, and who knows what its makeup will be then.  But the anti-marriage movement’s argument is in development and may take the same amount of time to get its legs.  The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a decision based on the above mentioned logic denying same-sex couples that right to be listed on their children’s birth certificates.  The issue is now before us and we cannot afford to stop paying attention.

After attending the Women’s March in Washington this last weekend, I left with a renewed sense of hope and possibility.  Hundreds of thousands of people made the impossible seem possible.  The greatest lesson that I took from my experience there was that no matter how generous I may have felt before in giving President Trump a chance to govern, I cannot forget, nor should any of us, that he won the election by dividing the country and making it clear that some people were simply not welcome.  Those are not “alternate facts.”  Those are the facts.  

This is the LGBT Trump disconnect.  I fear now that my beloved LGBT community has taken its place among women, black people, brown people, Muslim people and immigrant communities that were so vilified during the election and may have no voice in the Trump administration.  I hope that the LGBT Trump disconnect is a myth, but if past is prologue, we have no option other than to pay attention, remain engaged and share our feelings with everyone we can. 

For more information, visit www.timeforfamilies.com, or email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.  

 

Update – 1/30/2017 – As of Friday, January 27, 2017, the Trump administration has reacted to outrage regarding the removal of climate change information from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website by restoring that information on to the EPA website.  All LGBT information remains missing from the whitehouse.gov site.

 

Update – 2/23/2017 – As of Thursday, February 23, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgendered students in public schools.

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Do I need a Will ? – Essential Estate Planning

Do I need a Will ? “I don’t own anything.”  “It’s too complicated.”  “I’m too young to think about a Will.”  I have heard all of these reasons and more for not adequately preparing an estate plan.

“Do I need a Will ?” is a very important question and this article will shed light on your Will’s importance and what happens if you don’t have one. While it may trigger unwanted emotions, having your “affairs” in order is the best gift you can give to your family and friends.

What happens if you do not have a Will? For the family and friends of those who have died without indicating their wishes for the disposition of their assets after death, not having a Last Will and Testament can be a nightmare.  State law determines where assets go when someone dies without a Will and the state doesn’t always get it right.  If you are married, your spouse receives your estate.  If you are married with children, most states direct half of your assets to your spouse and the other half to be divided among your children.  This may or may not be appropriate depending on an individual’s wishes and the ages of their children.estate planning trust, estate planning gay estate planning, lgbt estate planning, glbt estate planning, Wills, trusts, gay family law

If you do not have children, the state will look to your closest living legal relative as a recipient of your estate. This is where it gets tricky.  In most cases, a surviving parent is next in the line of succession, then siblings and their children.  If you do not have siblings, nieces or nephews, then the court will look out to your aunts, uncles and cousins.  The reality of this scenario is that someone who you may have never met, or had a relationship with may be the beneficiary of your estate if you do not plan carefully.

How does a Will work? A Last Will and Testament passes only probate assets, or assets that are owned    in one person’s name without a designated beneficiary.  Examples of probate assets include land, homes, cars, personal belongings and bank accounts.  A Will does not cover non-probate assets.  A non-probate asset is something that is owned jointly or an asset with a designated beneficiary.  Examples of non-probate assets include jointly held real property, a joint bank account, a life insurance policy with a designated beneficiary and an IRA, 401(k) or other investment account with a designated beneficiary.  You may also name a “TOD” (transfer on death) designation for a bank account you own solely in your name.

The above described assets pass outside a Will, the benefit of which is a faster and easier transfer of someone’s money or property when they die. If, however, you are single and there is no appropriate person to name as a designated beneficiary, it is imperative that you have a Will to pass your property where you want it to go upon your death.

What else does a Will do? A Last Will and Testament, in most states, is the only document that will allow you to name a guardian for children if something happens to both legal parents.  If you have young children, it is critical that you have a Will to state who you want to care for them if anything were to happen to both parents.  A Will also allows you to name an executor.  An executor is the person who will be in charge of marshalling your assets, identifying your debts and ultimately paying them off and making a final distribution according to your wishes as written in the Will.  If you die without a Will, your closest living legal relative will be the first choice for an executor.  Only you know whether this would be appropriate or not.

What happens after I die? If you die with a Will, the executor named in your Will petitions the probate or surrogates court in the county where you lived to receive authorization letters from the court.  This process is called “probate” and it ensures that a Will has been drafted and executed correctly, as well as managing the asset distribution.  Authorization letters will allow you to set up a bank account in the estate’s name and start paying any bills that are due.  If an executor must spend their own money to start a probate proceeding, it will be reimbursed prior to any distribution of assets.

Each state is different and will have a different time line and fee structure, so it is imperative that you meet with an attorney in your area to discuss the process in detail. If you find yourself asking, “Do I need a Will ?,” now you know better how to answer that all important question.
For more information, visit www.timeforfamilies.com or email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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Conscious Surrogacy – Making the Best Decisions For Your Family

Is there such a thing as conscious surrogacy? Yes, and those considering surrogacy will be confronted with some serious ethical questions.

Conscious surrogacy is a process. It is critical to understand some of the questions, and dilemmas, that you will face if you choose surrogacy to help you have your family.  If you are prepared to answer these questions before your surrogacy journey, and if you are comfortable with your answers, then you are ready to have these conversations with a potential surrogate mother.

What are some of the questions that you will face on your conscious surrogacy journey?

Do I want a single embryo or double embryo transfer? Do I want twins?  One of the first questions you will have to consider is whether you want to try and have twins with your surrogate mother.  Many choose this option for economic reasons.  If you know that you want more than one child, consecutive surrogacy journeys may not be an option.  But there is much more to consider.

conscious surrogacy

Twin pregnancies are much harder on the surrogate mother.  It can mean doctor ordered bed rest for your surrogate and more doctors’ visits, particularly in the third trimester.  Twin pregnancies also bring a higher risk of complications for the surrogate, such as preterm labor, and hypertension.

Twins arrive earlier. A normal singleton pregnancy is 40 weeks.  Most twins arrive early, at or before 36 weeks, which means that one or both of the children may require an extended hospital stay in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit.)  Some doctors state that in 50% of twin pregnancies, a NICU stay is required.  This by itself may give parents pause about choosing a double embryo transfer.  Studies show that consecutive singleton births result in better medical outcomes than a single twin birth.  With all the information, you can make a conscious decision.

Do I want PGD or PGS? Preimplantation genetic diagnosis or screening is now being offered by most IVF facilities.  PGD or PGS allows a parent to view the genetic material of their child before an embryo is implanted in a surrogate mother’s womb.  PGD/S can show whether a child has any genetic disorders, the sex of the child and other genetic traits that may complicate a pregnancy.  While infertile couples who use IVF (in vitro fertilization), or anyone with a preexisting genetic condition,  may be familiar with PGD/S, couples or individuals who have their families with the assistance of a surrogate mother will most definitely be asked whether they want the information that PGD/S provides.

Knowing whether there is a genetic complication prior to embryo implantation may be in the best interests of all parties, however, choosing the sex of your child before it is born ventures into an ethical quagmire. Most families do not have this information and, while the technology exists, you must ask whether you want the information that it can provide.  The mental and physical health of your surrogate mother must be a priority in making this decision.

Do I want to selectively reduce if complications arise? Perhaps the most important questions you will confront is whether or not to selectively reduce, or abort, an embryo or fetus if there is a danger to the surrogate mother or to the child.  In reality, no state will enforce a gestational carrier contract which requires selective reduction.  The surrogate mother will always have the final say.  But you must know what you want first before you can discuss it with your surrogate.

While abortion is one of the most controversial topics in American society, it is routinely a part of conversations that intended parents have with their surrogate mothers. Surrogacy agreements attempt to cover all possible outcomes and obstacles that can arise during a surrogate pregnancy.  The most important aspect of this topic is being able to communicate your beliefs and desires with your surrogate.

There are many more issues that intended parents will face. Conscious surrogacy is about understanding the major decisions surrounding these issues and being able to come to a place of peace with each one, first with yourself, then with your surrogate mother.  Respecting her autonomy during the pregnancy will take you a long way toward reaching this goal.  Maintaining open and honest communication with your surrogate mother will also help to ensure that the journey is successful for all involved.

For more information about surrogacy, please visit http://www.timeforfamilies.com or email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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LGBT Family Rights in a Trump Presidency

Many are asking, “Will there be LGBT family rights in a Trump presidency?” While there certainly is cause for concern about the direction of our country, there are also certain realities that are reassuring.

I never thought I would be writing about LGBT family rights in a Trump presidency. But I also never received as many concerned calls from previous and prospective clients asking whether their marriages would be invalidated, or whether their second or step parent adoptions would be overturned.  These serious questions have led me to write about what I see as LGBT family rights in a Trump Presidency.

First, there is strong precedent holding that when a marriage is validly performed, it will be respected and honored under the law. This means that those LGBT Americans who are already married should not have to worry about a new Supreme Court taking their marriages away from them.LGBT family rights in a Trump presidency

For those who are not married but may wish to in the future, the question is a bit more nuanced. Shannon Minter, the legal director of NCLR, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and one of the smartest legal minds in our community, said in a recent press release, “it is also highly unlikely that the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry will be challenged or that the Supreme Court would revisit its 2015 holding that same-sex couples have that fundamental right.”  Mr. Minter is basing this belief on the long held tradition of the court to honor its previous decisions, a term called stare decisis.

The question many legal scholars are asking is whether a newly conservative Supreme Court will ultimately hear a case challenging the right of LGBT couples to marry and overturn the Obergefell marriage decision. While unlikely, it is possible. We can only wait to see who Trump appoints to the Supreme Court.

The most moving calls that I have received in the past days have been from people either in the process of having their families or plan to have families in the near future. They are deeply concerned about the security of their families.  I recently wrote about New York’s changing family law and how second and step parent adoption are now critical to create unassailable family protections, particularly for non-genetically related parents.  These specific forms of adoption are state based and largely shielded from Federal meddling.  That said, if you have a child and have not gone through the adoption process, it is strongly recommended that you do so now rather than later, when our Federal judicial system may be less friendly to LGBT families.

Among LGBT lawyers, one issue of great concern regards transgender Americans and obtaining accurate gender markers on federally issued identification, such as passports. While there is a transgender rights case which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear, we do not yet know whether a ninth more conservative justice will be appointed in time to hear it.

My husband reminded me that politics is cyclical. We have bounced between conservative and liberal presidents and congresses many time before, however, we have never before been faced with a president who based his entire campaign on dividing America by fearful and bigoted rhetoric.  We have never before had a President who, during his campaign, threatened to ban all Muslims from the country, or “lock up” his presidential opponent or degrade women as objects of his own control and pleasure.

Now more than ever it is time to be proactive. Many of us have experienced the shock and sadness associated with the loss of what we had hoped would be a liberal president in the White House.  We are entering uncharted territory.  LGBT family rights in a Trump Presidency will undoubtedly take some hits, but we are a strong, resilient and loving community.  And we have the tools to protect our families.   Don’t fail to use them!

By Anthony m. Brown, Esq.  November 11, 2016 – For more information, visit www.timeforfamilies.com or email Anthony at

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New York’s Changing Family Law

New York’s changing family law finally appears to be catching up to the realities of LGBT families, at least incrementally.

A series of decisions from various New York courts is informing New York’s changing family law in ways never before imagined. Currently, in Manhattan, a court is struggling with how best to protect a child born in Ethiopia, which would only allow a single mother to adopt, now that his lesbian parents have split up.  Another recent decision out of the Kings County Family Court is one of the first to acknowledge the complexities of how we create our families, and offers sage advice as to how best we can protect them.

New York's changing family law

This new line of cases comes hot on the heels of the New York Court of Appeals case known as The Matter of Brooke S.B., which I have written about extensively.  Up until this decision, many lesbian parents who had not adopted the biological children of their partners or spouses were considered legal strangers to the children that they had raised since birth.  They were blocked by the court from seeking custody and visitation when their relationships faltered.  The Matter of Brooke S.B brings New York’s changing family law in line with many other states which recognize “de facto” parents for the purpose of custody and visitation and prioritizes the best interests of the child in making these critical decisions.

The court in Brooke S.B. was careful not to expand the definition of parentage beyond the facts of each specific case, which means that we will be seeing more and more litigation attempting to address situations that do not fall squarely in the fact pattern of Brooke S.B., like the current case in Manhattan.

In a move to address confusion created by a 2013 decision from Kings County Surrogates Court, where Judge Margarita Lopez Torres denied a lesbian couple a step parent adoption because she held that a marital presumption of parentage existed when a  child is born to a married couple, Brooklyn Family Court has offered its opinion.  New York’s Appellate division, Second Department held the opposite of Lopez Torres (Paczkowski v. Paczkowski, — N.Y.S.3d —- (2015)), creating much confusion for the LGBT community.  Brooklyn Family Court Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO) Harold Ross, in a decision titled The Matter of L., et. al, held that as long as uncertainty exists for LGBT couples who create their families with assisted reproductive technology (ART), then second parent adoptions are the best way to secure those families from this uncertainty.

The bottom line of New York’s changing family law is that with each new case that tests the limits of the court’s definition of family, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars will be spent to “make new law,” when there already exists a remedy that is affordable and is respected across the country and around the world, second and step parent adoption.  The process may be time consuming but the benefit is priceless and I believe that JHO Ross understood this and made New York’s changing family law easier for us all to grasp.

For more information, contact Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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Ethical Surrogacy – Making the Right Choices

Ethical surrogacy is, and must be, the goal of an intended parent (IP) who is looking to have a family with the assistance of a surrogate mother.

Because of the different parties involved and the roles that they play, there must be a guiding, ethical roadmap for intended parents to follow to ensure that everyone has a successful and positive experience, an ethical surrogacy. Up until very recently, no such roadmap existed for intended parents.  Doctors have such guidelines in the ASRM (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) Recommendations for Practices Utilizing Gestational Carriers.  Attorneys also have such guidance in numerous articles and section committees dedicated to issues surrounding surrogacy.

Respect Ethics Honest Integrity Signpost Meaning Good Qualities

Now there is a place where intended parents can go to review best practices and baseline protocols for ethical surrogacy, ensuring that each IP has the tools to create an ethical journey. Men Having Babies (MHB), a non-profit organization of which I am the board chairperson, recently introduced A Framework for Ethical Surrogacy for Intended Parents, available online in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew.  This comprehensive document is supported by several LGBT organizations in America and abroad.

What is Ethical Surrogacy?

MHB’s ethical surrogacy framework revolves around the notion that surrogacy can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience for all parties involved, even if the surrogate is compensated for her efforts, risk and inconvenience. While compensation is part of the process, the act itself is not commercial because the IPs are not buying anything, particularly a child, which is a claim made by some anti-surrogacy activists.  A surrogate efforts should be compensated, even if the journey does not result in a pregnancy or in the case of a miscarriage.

How can Ethical Surrogacy be Achieved?

Regulation is the key to achieving ethical surrogacy. Having laws in place that require independent representation for all parties ( in their home languages), ensuring that all parties are vetted medically and psychologically, limiting compensation so as not to create irresistible incentives for participation and making surrogacy legal in each state and in each country so IPs and surrogate mothers do not have extraordinary distances between them, all work together to create an ethical surrogacy environment.

Reasonable and appropriate legislation should be enacted to allow perspective parents, donors and surrogates enter into legally enforceable agreements for surrogacy arrangements without having to cross state lines or country borders. This fosters more successful and fulfilling relationships between surrogate mothers and IPs.  Steps must also be taken to limit any medical risks that donors and surrogates face in the surrogacy process.

Baseline Protocols for Providers

Several baseline protocols should be implemented by service providers to ensure an ethical surrogacy experience including, but not limited to: informed consent from all parties, medical screening, social and psychological screening, independent legal representation (with language interpretation is required) before any treatments begin, medical insurance review from the surrogate mother and an agreement regarding contact during and after the surrogacy journey.

Best Practices

Best practices are suggestions for “above and beyond” thinking that is required of IPs because so much of the integrity of the journey depends on them. Among these suggestions is the creation of a long term vision about your family.  Who will be the biological parent?  How many journeys do you anticipate? What will the relationships be during and after the surrogacy?  How will you explain your family make-up to your child?  These questions are just a few of those that need to be asked and answered in the surrogacy process.

Above all, the autonomy of your surrogate mother must be respected and supported. While it may be your child that she is carrying, it is her pregnancy.  Insuring that she knows that you, as IPs, understand this distinction is critical to supporting her autonomy.  Her family and community will also play a role in her pregnancy, so getting to know her circle of support is a wonderful way of bolstering that support, making the journey a happy and healthy one for your surrogate mother.

While the MHB Framework for Ethical Surrogacy for Intended Parents goes deeper into the specifics of making your journey an ethical one, this article is designed to begin a conversation about the quality and success of your surrogacy journey.  After all, your family is worth it!  For more information, go to timeforfamilies.com or email Anthony at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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