Saturday, September 17, 2005

NJ Domestic Partner Law - Doesn't Cover Inheritance 

New Jersey's domestic partnership law, which took effect in July 2004, provides some of the legal rights of marriage to same sex couples who register. Included are hospital visitation, some state tax benefits, and some benefits to state employees. It is silent, however, on the issue of inheritance and intestacy.

This silence is now being argued as not excluding inheritance by a registered domestic partner whose spouse died without a will. Betty Jordan and Rene Price registered as domestic partners in late 2004. They had been together for 19 years when Price died this past July. Their house, car and bank account had all been in Price's name, and she unfortunately did not leave a will. Under NJ law, the surviving spouse in a married couple inherits the estate if the decedent was intestate. The state has determined that this particular facet of the law does not apply to registered domestic partners. Jordan is challenging the interpretation of the domestic partner legislation. She is currently still in residence at the home and is using the car, however.

The lessons to be learned in the meantime? Don't believe it when those who opposed marriage equality but offer civil unions or domestic partnership registries as the legal equivalent. They're not. And as long as states and the federal government can choose not to recognize another state's legal marriage, civil union or domestic partnership system, even those rights aren't guaranteed.

Finally - think you don't need a will, or not yet at least? Think again.


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