Gay marriage is not currently legal in North Carolina. Our state also does not recognize marriages that are performed in states where gay marriage is legal. There are, however, legal documents that you can have drawn up that protect your interests and the interests of your family. Here are five basic documents that every gay couple should have if you reside in the state of North Carolina, or any other state where gay marriage is not legal.

1) Will – A will is important for everyone, but it is an essential document for gay couples, or any people in non-traditional family structures to have. If you pass away without a will, NC law will apply to distribute your assets. This means that your assets will be distributed to your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins…etc. instead of your life partner or any children you have with your life partner that you do not have legal custody of. If you are estranged from your extended family or feel that any will you have may be contested, there are preventative steps that can be taken to ensure that your estate passes to those loved ones you intend it to go to.

2) Health Care Power of Attorney – This document allows for you to choose who can make health care decisions when you are no longer able to. They can also address end-of-life issues. A health care power of attorney document can also cover hospital visitations and HIPPA authorizations. The combination of all of these documents will mean that your partner will be able to participate in your health care to the same level as a spouse in a legally recognized marriage.

3) General Power of Attorney – This document allows for you to choose who can make decisions other than medical ones, such as financial decisions. This can be as expansive or narrow as you want. If can cover banking, real estate, or business transactions.

4) Domestic Partnership Agreement – A properly written domestic partnership agreement will be considered a legally binding contract that is enforceable in the court system. These types of agreements can include a wide range of provisions although typically include property, income, and debts and conditions which would happen upon separation or termination of the relationship.

5) Shared Custody Agreement. This document is vital for gay couples that have children. Children that only have one legal parent face a variety of logistical obstacles such as not being eligible for health insurance, Social Security, or inheritance from the non-recognized parent. These agreements also help to determine arrangements for children if the parents separate. The non-recognized parent may have no rights to see the children in the case of a breakup.

These five documents are basic documents that every gay couple should have, whether you live in the state of North Carolina, or in another state where gay marriage is not legally recognized. These are provided for general information only. Each family is unique. To fully understand how these documents could work to protect your family, discuss your situation with a qualified attorney who has experience with estate planning as well as LGBT issues.