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'Til Death Do Us Part...

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After several sternly worded reminders, the family sent most of the items back on a hauler and promised the rest would come back in boxes from the family’s attorney. Not everything was returned – there were definitely some power tools missing – but it was too exhausting to nitpick.

Though the family had agreed not to contest the will, within a few weeks things became acrimonious anyway. Accusations began to fly. The family claimed that Alan, who wasn’t there to defend himself, had removed valuables from a safe-deposit box and misspent his mother’s and the company’s money, funneling some of it to me. All of these claims were dubious at best, and the last was easily rebuffed by an examination of my bank account. The most difficult to digest was the suggestion that the family might go after the rings on my finger. I felt like a discarded mistress.

It was clear that the family had no intention of granting me access to the quarter of the family’s multimillion-dollar estate to which I was entitled as Alan’s beneficiary (which I would have automatically received were I his lawful spouse). In truth, I didn’t feel comfortable going after the Georgia assets. They had nothing to do with me.

In the end, after months of posturing and thousands of dollars in legal fees – and an eventual psychological breakdown that ended with me institutionalized for a week – we reached a settlement. I would sign away my rights to the Georgia assets if the family would back off on the Florida probate, and agree to not file any claims against the estate or make allegations about Alan’s behavior.

It was ridiculous, really. The “estate,” at least in Florida, was worth next to nothing; the house was underwater. I had fought for eight months to secure Alan’s dignity and a few thousand dollars. On Dec. 19, the Florida probate case was closed.

A statewide domestic-partnership registry, Meeks told me, would have changed all of this. I could have called the cops when Alan’s brother came to rifle through my things. I would have had control over Alan’s remains. And with a registry – and especially if I was covered under the 1,138 legal rights afforded to married couples – I would have directly inherited the house, thereby obviating the need for court filings and legal fees. I wouldn’t even have needed the will.

“It would have completely put the burden on [the family] to have to come up with valid legal claims to go against you,” Meeks says. “Those bogus claims that Alan was misspending money would have been completely irrelevant. Anything that he owned would be yours.”

On Feb. 19, the Senate’s Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs tabled the original version of the SB 196, which included broad legal protections and estate rights for domestic partners. It was, detractors claimed, too close to approximating marriage rights, and, in the words of state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, a “walking lawsuit.”

“People who stood up for the rights of Floridians are going to be seen as pioneers,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said in exasperation. “And it’s almost shameful that we have to be viewed as pioneers, ’cause I don’t see myself as one. And I know the other people who support this bill don’t see themselves as pioneers either. This is simply a bill that allows our constituents to be themselves and puts an end to, really, the bigotry that seems to happen in our communities, when somebody who loves someone else can’t act on that.”

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