In the past twenty years, Colorado has gone from being dubbed the “hate state” for its discrimination against same-sex individuals (See Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996)) to allowing civil unions. Beginning at midnight on May 1, 2013, same-sex couples will be able to enter into civil unions. A number of legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that are granted to spouses under the law apply to parties to a civil union.
These changes include: the ability to inherit real or personal property from a party in a civil union under the probate code; priority for appointment as a conservator, guardian, or personal representative; survivor benefits; the ability to file a complaint about the care or treatment of a party in a civil union in a nursing home; rights related to declarations concerning the administration, withholding, or withdrawing of medical treatment, proxy decision-makers and surrogate decision-makers, CPR directives, or directives concerning medical orders for scope of treatment forms with respect to a party to a civil union; rights concerning the disposition of last remains of a party to a civil union; and the right to make decisions regarding anatomical gifts (C.R.S. 14-15-101 et seq).
The impact that the new Act will have on estate planning is not yet clear. The previous norm in Colorado for same-sex couples, designated beneficiary agreements, may no longer be necessary for an individual in a same-sex relationship to dispose of his or her property as desired and allow for his or her partner to make important medical decisions. The Act makes it clear that, for the most part, a “party to a civil union has the benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law as are granted to spouses” (C.R.S. 14-15-106 (1)).
The legislature has made it clear that for estate planning purposes, if a partner in a valid civil union dies intestate, his or her partner can now inherit via the intestacy statute. Although the full extent of the benefits to same-sex couples remains to be seen, the best way for any partner to a civil union to ensure the desired disposition of his or her property, or that the proper person handles decision-making when the partner is no longer able, remains, like any marriage, in informing loved ones of his or her wishes and creating valid estate planning documents.