If a Close Relative Hasn’t Accepted Your Marriage, Should You Leave Them Anything? (The Cranky Uncle Problem)

“Friends,” Tennessee Williams famously noted, “are God’s way of apologizing to us for our families.”

We’ve all got that cranky uncle. In fact, our stories are so similar –the leather recliner, the favored drink, the phlegmatic jeremiads about “these kids today” – it sometimes feels as if we all share the same one.

But for an increasing number LGBTQ families planning their estates, the cranky uncle has become something of a problem: What do we do about those survivors whose sense of “family values” mean they don’t value our families?

Without careful planning, your assets could well fall into the hands of people who hold your “lifestyle” in contempt.

In one way, it’s a really straightforward problem. It’s your money, and you can leave it to whomever you please. If your niece’s homophobia, say, has gone way beyond the pet-curmudgeonly and become a barrier to a loving and meaningful relationship, then no one would blame you for cutting her out.

More than that, if friends are God’s compensation for relatives, shouldn’t you compensate those friends as part of your legacy?

Hearts, Minds And Probate Courts

There are some serious questions at issue here. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, it changed the law as regards LGBTQ families, but the law still can’t do anything to change the hearts and minds of people who can’t accept LGBTQ families.

Therein lies the real dilemma. Georgia law makes clear that, when someone dies without having left a will, his assets go through probate court and are then distributed amongst a hierarchy of relatives.

Those who have living children or a surviving spouse might think they can relax here, because kids and then spouses get first dibs on the estate. That, too, though, can be complicated by those cranky uncles who decide they want to be litigious uncles. Also, those folks who’ve been unlucky enough to divorce will want to take a closer look at their plans, because Georgia law gives exes a bite at the estate apple when there’s no will.*

If there aren’t kids or a surviving spouse and there’s no will, there’s a pretty straightforward diagram as to who gets first dibs: First, your parents, then your brothers and sisters, then your nieces and nephews, then your grandparents, then your uncles.

You can see how quickly, then, that incorrigible crank at Thanksgiving becomes a real threat to your legacy.

The Best Revenge

Yet help is at hand. Careful estate planning–not just wills, but advanced directives, trusts and a whole gamut of legally binding instruments–can help LGBTQ families secure their legacies from the grasp of petty or even bigoted relatives.

Having a concrete, comprehensive and legally binding estate plan is especially important because–notwithstanding the Supreme Court–Georgia legislators seem intent on flirting with “opt out” clauses for those cranky uncles.

There’s even a chance to have a little puckish revenge on those cranky uncles. Consider the look on that relative’s face when he learns that you’ve set up a trust, benefiting LGBTQ charities or scholarships in his name!

Living well might well be the best revenge, but dying well offers its own compensations, too.

*This seems especially salient for an older generation of folks, many of whom may have tried “straight” marriages before finally accepting themselves and coming out of the closet. Remember, those exes may have claim to your estate, too, and any children from those marriages certainly will have a claim on your estate.

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Scriber Law Group, LLC

Scriber Law Group, LLC is heavily experienced in handling the needs of clients with specific, complex estate planning and asset protection needs, such as same-sex couples and blended families.

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