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Civil unions, the first steps
Part of a series
by Roger McCaffrey

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Q. My partner and I just made the leap. We are now civil union partners. What do we do now?

A With the passage of the Civil Union law LGBT couples who enter into a civil union will have the right to hold title to real estate as tenants by the entirety. Tenancy by he entirety combines the survivorship attributes of joint tenancy with the bonus of limited protection against creditors. That is, a judgment creditor of just one of the homeowners cannot enforce its lien against the residence of the homeowners owned as tenants by the entirety.

This means that if you enter into a Civil Union and sign and record a new deed conveying the title of your house, which has to be your residence, to yourselves, as tenants by the entirety, the creditors of one of you cannot take away the house. This is asset protection in its greatest form. You should consult with your own attorney to see if this right for you.

Also, having a civil union does not remove the need to have current powers of attorney. Effective July 1, 2011 the Illinois Power of Attorney Act went into effect. The new law makes wholesale changes with new forms and new legal obligations.

The new law says your old forms are valid, but sometimes banks etc. refuse to accept them on their face if they are too old. An "old" power of attorney is more difficult to deal with than a fresh one because a question arises as to whether it is still good or whether it has been replaced. When a power of attorney may be considered "stale" is a policy decision by third parties that differs widely. It is not unusual to hear statements that a power of attorney is considered stale if it is older than 6 or 12 months. Consult with your attorney.

Before entering into a civil union, it is important for low-income individuals to consider the impact their civil union may have on their public benefits. Because the Civil Union Act is a state law, the changes will be primarily in state programs. But since it's not always clear which programs are state and which are federal, review first the main public benefits programs, especially those accessed by people with HIV to determine what effect, if any, the new law will have.

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