Imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sort of legacy will you leave? Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.
My biggest contribution to the world after I’m gone is the fact that I am planning on a Green Burial in Penn Hills – so I’ll leave a reclaimed spot in the forest. Maybe a tree will grow into my bones?
The interesting thing about “wedding planning” for a same-sex couple in mid-life is that it involves a lot more lawyers and accountants than florists or caterers. Now, we aren’t planning to get married. We are planning for what might happen when Pennsylvania’s federal challenge to the state DOMA finally gets its date in court. Will there be an open window to get a marriage license? How long?
None of that is something we can control. So we are taking advantage of the time to consider the many other implications the lurch towards equality for LGBTQ folks might have for our lives. It is a little jarring because for years there has clearly been hers, mine and ours. She bought the house before I moved in so it’s hers. This means the renter’s insurance is mine because we are not legally related and I am not on the deed. What’s ours? Paying the bills and living in the home and all that comes with it.
So thinking about that mixup of hers, mine and ours getting a shuffle if marriage is legalized – even for a few days – is disconcerting. Clearly, lawyers are needed because we don’t know the implications on asset tests for my life if her assets are suddenly part of the deal. And vice versa.
fwiw, my current worst fear is that the advent of marriage equality in PA will result in the loss of domestic partnership benefits – forcing us to make a choice and ending up losing rights, benefits and a life we’ve carved out over ten years. Our City extended domestic partner benefits in 1995 and some employees (unions) don’t have them yet so it might be easier to do away with them than deal with the naggling little detail which has created a discriminatory work environment for nearly 20 years. How the City is going to address equality issues will best be discerned by whom they charge with reform. That could take a while.
No one said The Next Pittsburgh would be an easy fit or not require supreme sacrifices. And that’s how life is. It isn’t personal or malicious. It doesn’t feel very good right now and I suspect that will be the case for years to come. Pittsburgh is far less equal than it was in our minds five years ago and the solutions to leveling that playing field might cost some of us quite a bit. It has nothing to do with being an ally and everything to do with ripping out the poor foundation to create more stability.
The tender things that we were working on are subsumed by the financial, political and legal realities.
So all of this inevitably leads to the drawing up of a Will. You might be surprised how many LGBTQ families have not done this. You might be horrified how many with children have not done this. After watching my family disintegrate over a pearl necklace most likely stolen by a home health aide years before my grandmother’s death, I can only imagine the horrors of “who gets/takes the kids?” would go. Especially if that second parent adoption isn’t finalized. That’s far more terrifying than missing necklaces.
We don’t have kids so our planning goes something like – each other, pets and the rest. But I do have a few items that I puzzle over.
For example, my paternal grandmother left me a tea seat imported from Japan around 1920 that’s edged in real gold. I never knew it existed – neither did my father – until the year 2002 when she moved from her apartment to my parent’s house. Apparently, her younger sister broke a piece and she carefully wrapped up the entire set and hit it away, determined never to let it be harmed again – including the broken pieces. For 60 years.
It is gorgeous and a lovely heirloom. I can’t display it because it is so fragile and we have cats and no real display space anyway. My grandmother’s display case disappeared into the family fights over that damn necklace. I have no idea if this has any monetary value, but it certainly has emotional value.
To whom? My grandmother had 4 granddaughters and 4 grandsons. She has 2 living great-granddaughters and 5 living great-grandsons, ranging in age from 25 to 5. None of them really knew her. I suppose you could say my niece (one of the great-grands) would be the natural person to inherit from me and that seems true. But it feels important that I make a good decision about this heirloom.
I have tons of stuff from her – mementos all, nothing of “value” – but I have to divvy it up and get it to the proper person, many of whom aren’t fond of having a lesbian relative. That’s sort of the good side to leaving it to my Will – I can let someone else deal with the disdain because I’ll be in a better place.
It is important to me that my Will reflect the legacy I want to leave – being fair, valuing the past and those who sacrificed for us, not holding grudges, being kind and compassionate, etc. How do you sum that up with the divvying up of things that belong to me?
Who will want the 1926 print edition of Little Women with a broken spine with beautiful illustrations outlined in gold? I’ve never taken it to the book binder to repair, but I cherished being permitted to read it stretched out on my grandmother’s bed when I was a girl. Can I leave someone a broken book?
What about photos? That’s not so bad because I’ve scanned most of them so literally all of the cousins can have them. And have amateur geneaologists on both sides of my family to whom I can leave my 1500+ family tree research.
What about my grandfather’s letters from the South Pacific from 1940-1944?
I have on chair from a set of four that once belonged to the Roosevelt estate. What do you do with one chair? I think sending to be reunited with at least one other of the set makes sense – so which cousin do I pick? Oh my.
Most of what I own can be given away – clothes, books, trinkets. Perhaps that’s the legacy – to arrange it so that its all planned out and no one has to riffle through my drawers to see if they want anything. When you don’t have kids or close siblings, you can’t imagine anyone caring for that pink sweater or the array of LL Bean winter coats, but they can have immense value to people who will never meet me.
I suppose in all honestly my legacy will be my blog – chronicling the life of LGBTQ people in the middle of a revolution for equality. I’ve written about protests, hearings, rallies and court cases, but also about soap operas, cats and daily life. It will sort of be like a garbage heap for some future generation to dust off and read. With no parenting advice. Ha.
(Seriously, go see a lawyer. It is far more critical than vacation, etc. You don’t want to be remembered as the parent whose kids were caught in a custody battle. Remember when you related to the Breakfast Club? Now you are the parents who forced them to go to detention.)