The law of succession – the LGBTQ+ perspective
As public demonstrations Pride events are an important way of campaigning for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike most other minorities, being gay is a profoundly individual, and often isolating, experience. Most LGBTQ+ children are born into heterosexual families, often without a support network or anyone to turn to as they realise they are not like most others. This is why a public celebration of the LGBTQ+ community is crucial broadcasting to the world that LGBTQ+ people can find love and acceptance if they have the strength to seek it.
But not all LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable in the limelight. For some LGBTQ+ people parading dressed in brightly coloured costumes, dancing to YMCA or belting out ‘Does your mother know’ is not the most-wanted pastime. With the Prides’ months in full swing I am taking a look at ‘waving the rainbow flag’ through the law of succession.
As a Private Client Solicitor I provide a complete range of bespoke, tax efficient and fully effective Will writing services, helping my Clients preserve their wealth and leave the next generation a lasting legacy. However, for the LGBTQ+ community making a Will can be much more than preserving and passing on wealth. It has an enormous potential for a silent, yet significant act in support of the LGBTQ+ cause.
According to Daniel Monk, a Professor of Law at the University of London for LGBTQ+, a Will can be a platform for coming out, reconfiguring kinship networks, ‘repaying debts’ owed to supportive communities, providing for non-conventional friends and even, as Antu Sorainen’s research seems to suggest, influencing social and cultural change.
1. Will as a platform for coming out
Some lesbians, gay men, bi and trans feel perfectly comfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. For others, the fear of rejection, historical circumstances or socio-cultural context make coming out a paralysing idea or a completely unfeasible concept. Undoubtedly there are those who, in order to preserve their continued relationship with family and friends, had no choice but to forsake the ability to share everything with them. However, they may still like their nearest and dearest to find out and may choose to posthumously reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity and come out in the ultimate declaration of their final wish, their Will or a Letter of Wishes.
Finding the right words can be difficult and since actions speak louder than words a legacy to a same sex partner or a charity that provides guidance and support to closeted people such as R U Coming Out can be equally, if not more, powerful.
2. Reconfiguring kinship networks
As part of her research on how LGBTQ+ people organise their care and support relations, Antu Sorainen, an Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki, interviewed Maria, a middle-aged lesbian professional, who used her own estate planning to reconfigure her kinship networks. Worn out by a recent family feud over mother’s inheritance, Maria used her own Will as a tool to confront her sibling who tried to assert that, just because Maria had no dependants, her nephews and nieces had a legitimate expectation of her inheritance. As a devoted animal protector, in her first Will Maria made animal charities her main legatees. In her latter Will her four-legged beneficiaries were joined by human beings but the criteria was not blood relations. She decided to recognise those who really supported her during the toughest times of her life – her care relations.
3. Providing for non-conventional friends
In her latter Will, Maria decided to benefit those who made a positive contribution to her life; her former lovers, her current on/off lover, her friends, colleagues and community. She knew that, just as life changes, priorities do, too and she intends to write a new Will every time her circumstances change. Reading Maria’s story made me wonder whether by turning against the conventional succession by the blood relations and designing her own kinship network Maria was in fact voicing her disapproval of the arrangements put in place by her grandfather, the original creator of the family wealth, who did not intend female descendants to inherit.
4. Repaying supportive communities
We all have groups of people that are significant to us. Typically, they are arranged based on blood kin and ties created by marriage/civil partnership. Sorainen’s research shows that care and support networks can also include ‘unconventional relations’. In her work Sorainen uses the narrative of the Great Gay Migration and the consequential ‘queer urban idealisation’, a phenomenon that originated in US in the 1970s and still causes LGBTQ+ to leave rural areas and move to big cities for social and political pursuits. Sorainen argues that those who, following their move, become estranged from their families place reliance for support on private circles of those who share their values and resources. As the importance of supportive communities increases so does their inclusion in the Wills of those who rely on their support. More often than before Probate practitioners see legacies to charities such as Stonewall and to local organisations such as Breakout Youth, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight’s Local LGBTQ+ Support Charity, or Breakfree, a support group for Transgendered People in the Bournemouth area.
5. Influencing social and cultural change.
Monk argues that as people decide to be guided by care rather than blood relations and include in their Wills only those who really care about their well-being, preserving wealth for future generations seems to be giving way to passing property from one person to another. Inheritance, however big or small, can have significant importance on the quality of the life of the recipient. By redesigning kinship networks and including non-conventional friendships and wider community LGBTQ+ Wills have therefore potential for influencing socially and economical changes.
Putting one’s affairs in order and making a bespoke fully legally affective Will is of course of great benefit to those who are set to benefit under it. However, as it turns out, it could also have social and cultural significance that, who knows, may live forever and what better legacy could one wish to leave!
If you need assistance when it comes to writing a Will, our team of experienced Private Clients Lawyers are here to help. Arcadius Gregory can offer you unrivalled guidance and support – get in touch on 01202 338555.