“I didn’t say it was fair, I said it was the law.”

I asked my ex, my partner of almost twenty years from whom I separated three years ago, the co-parent of a teenaged kid, to attend a $14 community education session with me and update our wills.

We had spent thousands of dollars asserting, in two different states, that we were in fact related to one another: that sharing a home, a car, a life, a bed in fact meant that we would be responsible to one another even after death did us part. It turns out that, as difficult and expensive as that assertion of relatedness was, telling the state we had broken up was a breeze, and cheap to boot.

Our state of Minnesota, and our nation, enthusiastically agrees that we are no longer an item. In fact, they never believed that we were. Since we were all in agreement about this matter, I entered the community ed class in a calm place. I’m cheap, and my cheap self felt pretty happy that $28, for the two of us, would get our affairs in order.

I’m not saying I didn’t feel a tinge of sadness. I wondered, as I felt our after death wishes fit so easily into the pre-typed will templates which the lawyer leading our session had brought, just how much it had cost our relationship to be swimming upstream all those years, asserting that in fact love does make a family. I wondered if, had we been able to relax and float instead, supported without exerting an ounce of energy, our relationship might have survived.

But mostly I concentrated on filling in the forms accurately and quickly, initialing what needed to be initialed and checking boxes that needed to be checked. Everything goes to the kid. Check. Until the kid is 25, not too long now, a trust is established, with the following executor. Check. My ex and I whispered in consultation, no tension or disagreements between us, only wanting to get things set and done.

Most of the people in the room appeared, from their questions and comments, to be leaving their estates to their husbands and wives. They checked the box that said, to my spouse until their death, and then after spouse’s death to our children (insert names here).

But then. At the next table, a man, probably in his late 60’s, raised his hand. “If I want to leave everything to my friend, and then after he dies, to the kids, what box do I check?”

The lawyer clarified. “You want to leave everything to your friend?” “Well, yes, for the rest of his life,” said the man. “And then to our kids.”

The lawyer said off-handedly, “Well, you need to write on the blank line that you disinherit your children.”

The man’s mouth fell open in horror. “I don’t want to disinherit my children! I just want my friend to have what he needs for the rest of his life, and then the children would get it!”

The lawyer asked, as if he were cross-examining a witness, “Did you not say that you wanted to leave 100% of your estate to your friend?” The man nodded. “So that leaves zero percent for your children. Hence you must disinherit them.”

My mellow cheap self was suddenly gone from the room, and my mother tiger self was sitting in my seat instead, with adrenalin-clear vision. I was picturing what it would be like for my own kid to learn, after my death, that she had been disinherited. Like every other adopted child she will be processing, for her entire life, some amount of grief and loss about her birthmother. At that point, she’d also be processing the death of one of her parents. And then to be disinherited on top of it? I wondered, quite seriously, if she would survive.

Glancing at the man who had raised the question, I realized that I didn’t even know if he was gay or trying to care for some other friend after his death. But I did know I wasn’t going to sit quietly. I raised my hand. “So you are saying, “ I asked the lawyer, “That a gay couple could adopt or bear a child, raise that child together, and then they would both have to disinherit that child in order to provide for each other legally?”

The lawyer looked bored. The forty or so people in the room looked longingly at their will templates, studiously not looking up. I went on, “So you are saying, that even without the proposed Consititutional amendment on our ballot in November, which explicitly states that marriage is only between a man and a woman, loving and committed couples are forced to renounce either their children or each other in order to have legal wills?” The lawyer looked annoyed, but I couldn’t resist pushing it. “Are you saying that?”

“Look,” the lawyer said, “I didn’t say it was fair. I said it was the law.”

My ex and I finished filling out our forms, had them notarized, and left. As we walked out, this $14 class didn’t feel like such a bargain.

  • http://chalicechick.blogspot.com chalicechick

    1. To me, what these folks want to do makes no sense. If you want your kids cut into the inheritance, give them a percentage. If you want your spouse to have 100 percent, give your spouse 100 percent. Saying to your spouse “I’m leaving you my $100,000 estate, but you can’t do anything with it because I want you to pass it on to my kids when you die” just costs everybody a lot in taxes without really benefiting anyone and saying “I’m leaving you my $100,000 estate, but I want the leftovers to go my kids, so don’t spend it all,” also makes a lot less sense than just cutting them a percent in the first place.

    2. The way this works for land is called a “life estate” and “I want my spouse to live on my family estate until death, and then that estate to go to my kids” makes slightly more sense. But nobody is drawing one up for $14.

    3. The way this thing makes the most sense to me is if the issue actually is “I want my estate to go to my spouse, UNLESS MY SPOUSE IS ALREADY DEAD, in which case I want it to go to the kids” but I don’t understand how gay marriage effects that at all.

    • ian

      Chalicechick, it might not make sense but apparently if you are married it is possible, just check the box, otherwise it is not. :(

  • Kristen inDallas

    Sorry you had to go through that! For what it’s worth, I think most osa couples expirience a lot of the same frustrations. Its easier to get divorced than married for everyone in a “no fault” state, which I think is most of them now. And I don’t know the specifics of MN law, but it’s pretty common to have to either split an estate or have a contigency, but not be able to dictate what happens to the money after you give it to someone. Whether its a legal spouce, life partner or older friend that we just want to make sure is ok… if we leave them everything, it’s theirs. We have to trust them enough to pass it on to kids, or other causes on their own. If we don’t trust them, we have to take care of those things directly, or set up a trust or something more complicated. Anyway, I’ll agree that it stinks, and I don’t want to diminish that… but prperty laws are hardly ever human, for anyone.

  • http://www.randomreflectionz.com Christie

    How incredibly frustrating. I am sorry you had to go through that. As a former lawyer, I am all too aware of the fact that the law, unfortunately, inadequately addresses many real-life situations. I think that perhaps the lawyer was uninformed, unimaginative, and ill-equipped to handle any situations that didn’t require a simple “check the box.”