In my mid-twenties, my first boyfriend took me home to meet his family. After meeting his mother and three siblings, it was clear his mother was doing the best she could but wasn’t able to adequately provide for her children. That’s because she and her children were living on Social Security. My boyfriend’s mother immigrated to the U.S. and never learned English. Therefore, she stayed home to raise her children and never had a paid job. She relied on her husband, and then he passed away.
She was his second wife, whom he met after his divorce years prior. The reason she and her kids struggled financially was that her husband neglected to update his $500,000 life insurance policy for decades. Consequently, his ex-wife and her children were awarded the proceeds from his life insurance policy when he passed away.
This sad story is common. Many individuals either forget to name or forget to update beneficiaries on accounts, investments, life insurance and more. It’s important to note that beneficiary designations supersede wills because it, too, is a legally binding document. Therefore, if there’s a contradiction between the two as to who’s awarded life insurance proceeds or inherit an account, the individual beneficiary designation has precedence. Incorrect beneficiary designations can create chaos for those left behind.
Why LGBT people should designate beneficiaries on life insurance
There are both financial and emotional reasons to list beneficiaries on your life insurance policy.
From a financial standpoint, when you designate a beneficiary, such as a spouse or a partner, it’s likely that they won’t have to pay taxes on the funds they receive. Generally, most life insurance death benefits are tax-free. However, if you don’t designate a beneficiary, the assets will be transferred to your estate. In this case, either your spouse, if you’re legally married, or your next of kin will be responsible for determining where these assets go. It is possible that in some cases your estate will pay taxes on the payout.
The risk with this responsibility defaulting to next of kin, especially for LGBTQ people, is that next of kin may disregard your loved ones or your wishes. Take for example the well-publicized story of Tom Doyle and his partner Bill Cornwell, of 55 years. Because the proper legal measures weren’t taken, including marriage, Doyle, risked being kicked out of the West Village home he and his partner lived in for decades.
Doyle and Cornwell were not legally married and did not put legal documents in place that made them both owners of their home. Cornwell’s nieces and nephew tried to take possession of the home, claiming that Doyle and Cornwell were only friends. Fortunately, an agreement has been reached that permits Doyle to continue living in his home for $10 a month until he passes away.
For Tom Doyle, not having the right financial documents in place resulted in both an emotional and physical burden that no one wants to leave their partner dealing with.
That’s why it’s so important to name a beneficiary and to make sure that you plan for your death — even if it can be an uncomfortable subject. Your lasting legacy is worth the legwork.
Smart beneficiary choices that can leave a lasting legacy
What are some of the best choices for us in the queer community? Who can, and possibly should be listed as our beneficiaries?
The real value in naming beneficiaries is that your wishes for your money or assets are more likely to be followed. If you love cats and want to support a kitty shelter after your passing, then. that’s where your money should go. Right?
For those of us in the LGBTQ community who often have a non-supportive family, it’s of keen interest for us to designate beneficiaries so our assets don’t fall into the wrong hands. LGBTQ people have many allies and organizations that have supported and championed us in the past and present and will do so in the future.
Your partner and kids
For many in the LGBT community, we are now fortunate enough to list our spouse as a beneficiary. In addition, any children as part of the union or brought into the union may be likely choices, especially if you are a financial caretaker. If you are not married and with a partner, they would also be a clear choice as beneficiary. You’ve created a family, whether biological or logical and they make the most compelling choice as beneficiaries.
When listing a non-spouse or child as a beneficiary, it makes sense to use a trust. A trust lists a detailed explanation of how you would like your money and other assets to be distributed when you pass away. The nice thing with trusts is they allow you to list specifics. An example is, “I want $10,000 donated to Lambda Legal and 7% of my investments transferred to S.A.G.E., Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders.”
Another benefit is that trusts are administered by a trustee, so assets can be held in the trust and distributed, based on your wishes, over time rather than in a lump sum payment. This lets you give smaller sums of money over time, such as $15,000 a year for 5 years.
Of course, it makes sense that many of us in the queer community would think of donating to non-profits, especially those that are LGBTQ-supportive. Both of us feel it’s important to give back to such organizations, whether they provide support for those living with HIV/AIDS, advocacy at the state-level or helped us personally.
Charities and nonprofits are likely to be some of the biggest beneficiaries within the queer community. The fact that in 30 states in the U.S. we can still be fired, denied housing or human services because we’re queer shows that our community has a long way to go to obtain equal rights. These organizations cannot operate without financial support. Even though we may be gone, that doesn’t mean we can’t leave a legacy of hope for future generations of queer people.
Granted, many schools are sitting on millions and even billions of dollars in endowments while still charging astronomical tuition, housing and boarding fees, but a benefit of directing funds to college endowments is that you can designate how your money is distributed.
If you were in marketing, you may want the funds to go to queer students who are working on a marketing degree. Confirm in advance that your recipient college allows for specific direction of funds.
This suggestion may sound common or unneeded. Take into consideration that many in the queer community haven’t or weren’t able to save money for retirement. Your passing could be an opportunity to provide support to the ones you loved spending your life with and who could use some financial support.
Many of our queer brothers and sisters lived during a time when encouragement for a better life through investing and building a net worth was nearly impossible. You could change their lives.
Museums and other cultural organizations
The stories of queer characters, for many of us, has been the opening of the door that let us come out of the closet. Whether in movies, television, literature or another form of the arts, it’s stories of heroes and heroines, lovers and lost loves and coming out that made our lives better.
You could be the financial resource for those stories to continue. Giving back to the arts and culture will let the stories of our community to continue to be sharing to spread hope and inspiration.
Any of the above categories are contingent beneficiaries that queer people who are not married or who list spouses as primary beneficiaries but don’t have children may want to consider.
Naming a life insurance beneficiary, logistically
For individuals, in the life insurance application process, you should be prepared to provide the name, resident address, Social Security Number, and date of birth, and possibly phone number of your primary beneficiary. This person can be your partner, sibling, best friend — anyone you like. You should also name a contingent beneficiary, which would be the person who would receive the funds if something happened to your primary beneficiary. Often, this could be children or nieces and nephews.
Other beneficiary options are to name a trust or to name an organization directly. With a trust, you’ll need to provide the date of the trust, type of trust (irrevocable or revocable), and the tax identification number (TIN) or social security number of the Grantor. If naming an organization, there could be multiple requirements depending on the type. At least be prepared to share the Employer Identification Number (EIN.)
Whether yours is a full life or one accidentally cut short, it’s important that all our wishes are fulfilled upon death. Financially that means we must inform others what our wishes are, and have our affairs in order. By designating and regularly updating your life insurance, investments and banking beneficiaries, you eliminate the guesswork and any animosity for fulfilling your wishes. It’s, also, a loving way to leave a legacy for your family, friends and the organizations that you love, and they’ll love you back for it.