Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wills, adult adoption, and homophobia

What's so interesting about a hyper-technical adoption decision from Maine's Supreme Court? Not much, to be honest. But the story of the wealthy lesbian couple behind it is.

My wills and estates course is fascinating, despite the fact that the cases so often amount to squabbling among the wealthy about money they have little use for, because they so often hinge on personal relationships, and courts' evaluation thereof. Nowhere is this better illustrated than where nontraditional relationships are involved, be they same-sex, interracial, or of some other kind that relatives or courts are disinclined to look favorably upon. No wonder that estate planning is a major concern for same-sex couples.

This case suggests the anxieties even materially privileged same-sex couples must contend with in the absence of equal rights. Moreover, it illustrates why adult adoption is not a workable solution (even in the handful of places where it exists) -- but then, there are no wholly satisfactory solutions short of equality. Perhaps one modest step that could be pursued in more conservative states, and which would benefit everyone but most especially same-sex couples, is adopting an alternative process to probate one's own will while alive, as a few states like Ohio do. Through this process, couples who have reason to fear a will contest based more on homophobia than legal merit could force relatives to speak now or forever hold their peace.

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