Love and Documents

Lawrence Jacobs helps same-sex couples plan their estates

Published in 2012 Maryland Super Lawyers — January 2012

Ten years ago, a woman from suburban Maryland visited attorney Lawrence Jacobs in his office in Rockville.

“She worked at Walmart, was in her mid- to late 40s, not highly educated or sophisticated,” Jacobs remembers. “She had lived with a woman for a number of years who had a very high-level, high-paying federal government job. Her partner had been sick off and on and died very suddenly. [My client] had no assets or significant income of her own. She was pretty much totally dependent on the partner, and the partner owned the house alone.”

Absent a will, it only took two weeks for the deceased partner’s parents to kick her out of the house. “But for the fact that she had elderly parents in the area,” Jacobs says, “she would have been homeless.”

How can such incidents be prevented? “Documents,” Jacobs says. “A lot of the people that come to me have been together for very long periods of time and they don’t have any documents. They know they need them, and my job is to get them done. Because the consequences are just unimaginable.”

Jacobs, now of McMillan Metro, has been a business lawyer for more than 30 years—negotiating contracts, employment-related issues, business-to-business matters—but he’s also earned a reputation providing estate-planning guidance to a group of people with few legal protections in the area: same-sex couples.

“It started probably 15 years ago,” he says. “I had represented a number of gay-owned businesses. And a few of those business owners would come to me and say, ‘Larry, we want you to do our estate planning. We trust you as a lawyer and like you, and you understand our issues.’”

This niche practice grew slowly. “I wasn’t doing much to market it,” he says. “But the more I thought about it, and being in a [same-sex] relationship myself, I started to hear the horror stories: about how something had happened to one partner and the other partner wound up on the street. Those things happen. Even in this day and age, that happens.”

Back then, there were few legal protections for same-sex couples. “The first glimmer of [estate planning protection] was the D.C. domestic partnership law, which, of course, Congress blocked from going into effect for 10 years,” Jacobs says. “There are still no protections on the federal level. Maryland has taken baby steps in protecting same-sex partners, at least in health care decisions, but not in a probate arena at all.”

Recent gay marriage laws are a step in the right direction, he says, and many gay couples now seek the same legal documents as straight couples. “So I’m doing lots of prenups, sometimes postnups. But I’m still doing all the other estate planning stuff. … The fact that you’re married doesn’t solve all the problems by any means.”

He speaks from experience. Two years ago, he married his longtime partner, Steven, in Connecticut. “We had a big blowout reception here at our house, which was covered by The Washington Post,” Jacobs says. “He and I appear to be serial renovators. We just sold our second house and bought our third, which we have plans to renovate.” And who did their estate planning? Jacobs did it himself. “My husband waived any conflict of interest,” he says.

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