PLANNING STRATEGIES FOR LGBTQ+ PEOPLE -- Advancements Create New Opportunities

Frank Summers |

Something important is happening in health care systems across the country: they’re recognizing the health needs of the LGBTQ+ community deserve attention, and many are forming dedicated services. For the first time, LGBTQ+ healthcare was a dedicated topic at a recent international conference on healthcare and aging. It’s more than just patient & condition, however. It’s also about cultural competency. They realize that many of us are uncomfortable discussing certain topics with our doctors, or even just being out. It’s also about respect for our chosen families and relationships, and who we want involved in our medical decision-making. There’s a greater understanding that our experiences and histories as LGBTQ+ people, including physical and psychological, shape us and impact our health our entire lives. You see, healthcare is not just about patient/condition – it’s about seeing us as whole, complete people. 

At the same time, there’s a cultural shift in how we see the latter part of our lives. Gone is the idea of retirement as sitting in a rocking chair, watching life pass by and reminiscing about our youths. Instead, “elderhood” is seen as a vibrant phase of life, when we’re active and doing new and exciting things…hopefully with the freedom that comes with leaving a full-time career behind. As exciting as that is, the truth is that each of us will someday be older and these advancements give us more options, but only if we plan.

Living longer, more active, healthier lives…that sounds wonderful. How much will it cost? How will we pay for it? Those chronic conditions that used to be fatal, but are now maintenance issues…what impact will they have? How does being LGBTQ+ impact those things? 

Just as healthcare has changed for LGBTQ+ people, so has financial planning – and it’s more than just new products or investment options. The personal connection is every bit as important. Understanding how we want to experience the phases of our lives and the connections to our community and chosen families helps design plans to be sure the funds are there to enjoy them. But what if something happens…an illness or injury or chronic condition?

Financial planning has changed, and awareness of our needs can help avoid a costly mistake. Some of us are now married, some couples have chosen to remain unmarried, and others are single. In fact, there is a higher percentage of single LGBTQ+ people than our straight counterparts, and many more of us do not have children to provide care or financial support for us when we get older.

For example, with long-term care planning, there are options that can give us control over who we hire and what we pay for. Traditional long-term care policies require specialty care by facilities or providers that they define. That may not work for someone who wants to remain in their own home and wants to control who is providing care. A traditional long-term care policy won’t fund the retrofit of a bathroom – but there are other options that will. In fact, there are now options for HIV+ people to help fund long term care or to get life insurance that didn’t exist just a couple of years ago. 

Unfortunately, some things haven’t changed. Many LGBTQ+ people report discrimination or harassment in care facilities. Many of us want more options and control of where we live, and with whom, and to set the direction of our care. We want to decide who provides services for us. Reviewing the options and making decisions in advance can make all the difference.

Someone who isn’t well versed in LGBTQ+ planning needs might say that women need to think about long-term care needs more than men, which is simply not true. It is true that more women use those services, but the reason is that most of them provided the care needs for their husbands at home. It’s not that men need less care, it’s that the majority of people are straight and married, and their wives provided the care at home, which skews the statistics. 

Speaking of marriage, equality may be the law of the land, but marriage isn’t for everyone. Unmarried couples still want to care for one another and to have control over decisions and assets. That requires special planning and clarity. For the couples who do get married, or are considering it, there may be Social Security considerations to be taken into account. 

Being single brings its own set of planning needs, especially when it comes to setting expectations for care if we become incapacitated or need care. At all times, we should have control over who will make our medical decisions for us, who will have access to our money, and who will decide what is done with our property and belongings. 

Many of us want to be sure that it’s our chosen family and not our family-of-origin that makes our decisions. The right attorney can make sure that all of the paperwork is done properly and the right financial planner can be sure that the products and accounts are structured to support that. 

While marriage equality has leveled the field, and financial products are the same for everyone, it’s our needs as people that make us different. Your financial planner, attorney, and care advocates should work together as a team dedicated to you and your needs. We’ve worked too hard and achieved so much to settle for less.