Everyone needs to plan for the future, both for the known and expected events, and the unwanted and unplanned ones. LGBT folks have an additional burden, since we lack many of the legal protections other citizens have.

Our families of choice often have no legal connection to us and the state’s default for legal connection, our biological families, may not be supportive. By taking just a few simple steps, however, you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Everyone gets sick sometime. In the case of mild illnesses, you can take care of and advocate for yourself with medical professionals. In more severe situations, however, you might not have that luxury.

An advance directive, sometimes called an advance healthcare directive or a living will, is a document you complete that provides specific information on medical care for when you are incapacitated. It details basic curative care, like administration of medicines and antibiotics; palliative care, dealing with pain relief; and extraordinary measures, e.g., if you want CPR and resuscitation performed on you, if or you’d like to prolong your life on a respirator.

Beyond an advance directive, it’s also important that you designate someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you’re not able to. A healthcare power of attorney names the person who should act as your proxy if you are incapacitated. In the absence of this, your nearest legal relative in your biological family will be who gets to make healthcare decision for you.

The N.C. Department of the Secretary of State provides sample documents for advance directives, healthcare powers of attorney, and even organ donor cards, as well as the option to register your documents online for a small fee. Learn more at secretary.state.nc.us/ahcdr/.

In the event of a planned hospitalization, be sure to tell the hospital the names of any people you would like to be able to visit you. Three years ago Equality NC secured hospital visitation rights for non-legal relatives of patients. Now the Patient’s Bill of Rights for all NC Hospitals states: “A patient has the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patientís immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient.”

For couples, a power of attorney form designates someone to be your legal proxy. You can use this document to name specific limited circumstances that another can act for you, or you can give someone else broad abilities to make any and all legal and financial choices for you.

For retirement and stock accounts, be sure to designate your loved one as a beneficiary. When you set up accounts, this is one of the basic steps you take, and it’s an easy and simple way to be sure these assets go to the person you choose.

Partners can also establish joint bank accounts, which gives either party equal access to assets in that account. Similarly, significant others can get a mortgage as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. We’ve all heard horror stories where one partner unexpectedly dies, and then the other is kicked out of their home because they don’t have legal rights to it or any other artifact of the relationship.

Cohabitation/domestic partnership agreements are contracts between people who live together describing their rights and obligations within a living arrangement. They can describe how finances are handled, as well as how property should be divided in the event of a breakup.

For couples who want/have children, the North Carolina Supreme Court has validated claims for joint custody for partners in the unfortunate event of a break-up.

Finally, we all need to plan for end of life. A will provides directions for distributing your assets. As with medical issues, unless you say otherwise, your nearest legal relative in your biological family will inherit your stuff by default.

If you have significant assets, a trust allows a way to transfer assets without going through the process of probate, which can be an expensive and time-consuming way to settle an estate.

Life insurance is an easy way to provide for your loved ones after death.

One of the simplest and most overlooked steps you can take before death is to outline your wishes for funeral/burial arrangements. Death is a difficult time for loved ones, but you can make things much easier by thinking about and detailing what kind of service or ritual you’d like for your funeral, and what should happen to your body. It’s also good to list what accounts you have at what places, as well as list names and contact information for people to tell of your death. Learn more at carolinasendoflifecare.org.

The Carolinas Center for Hospice and End of Life Care is an excellent resource for the final details of life/end-of-life planning, with FAQs and many sample documents.

(Please consider Equality NC and our work for all LGBT North Carolinians as you plan for the future. Not only can you give us money directly now, but you can also designate us as a beneficiary in your will or life insurance policy. Equality NC, which coordinates our policy work, has a tax ID number/EIN of 02-0662714. Learn more about Equality NC at equalitync.org.) : :

— This piece by Equality  North Carolina’s Shawn Long was originally published online at equalitync.org on March 9, 2010, and reprinted here with permission and updates. Neither qnotes nor Equality NC provides legal or fiscal advice. You should consult a lawyer or financial planner for issues dealing with money or the law.