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Legal and social issues faced by older LGBT+ people

by Paul Maddock
29 October 2019

Paul MaddockPaul Maddock, associate in DWF's commercial litigation team and LGBT+ Lawyers Division committee member, gives an overview of some of the social and legal issues faced by older LGBT+ people.

The International Day for Older Persons (IDOP) is celebrated on 1 October each year.

One of the aims of the day is to raise awareness of issues affecting older people. Often, the legal and social issues faced by older LGBT+ individuals are often overlooked.

Probate claims

Older LGBT+ people are prone to many risk factors which increase their likelihood of being involved in a probate dispute or leaving an estate which is subject to claims.

Generally, members of the older LGBT+ community are more likely to:

  • be unmarried and in long-term relationships with informal financial arrangements
  • have decided not to have children, which most people view as the more 'standard' recipients of your estate on your death
  • be removed or even 'disowned' by their family, which may cause animosity when the sensitive issue of inheritance materialises

In addition to the above, older trans people can often be referred to by previous names in wills that have failed to be updated.

Whilst this shouldn't ordinarily cause an issue, family members who aren’t supportive of the person's transition may look use these circumstances for their own negative purposes.

LGBT+ people who are married or in a civil partnership (since the relatively recent changes in the law) often overlook that their marriage or civil partnership can invalidate an existing will (unless the will was entered into in anticipation of marriage or civil partnership).

Taking these above risk factors into consideration, older LGBT+ people should really consider seeking legal advice in order to try and mitigate the potential for a probate dispute materialising.

Choice of solicitor

Older LGBT+ people are increasingly likely to require the assistance of a solicitor, whether that is in respect of a relationship breakdown/divorce, selling a property or making a will.

These instructions often involve the discussion of private and sensitive personal information, which some older LGBT+ individuals (who may not have grown up in as open of communities) may be more reticent to disclose openly to third parties.

I had one particular client who had previously tried to instruct a law firm to assist with her application for a gender recognition certificate, the update of her will and powers of attorney, only to be told that her identification documents were not sufficient for their client due diligence checks given she was transgender.

This incidence caused a great deal of embarrassment and only served as a bar for the client instructing that firm of solicitors.

Elderly care

The social and residential care crisis is often banded about in political campaigns, with many commentators believing society isn't well equipped to cater for older generations.

In terms of LGBT+ older people, who often may only be out to a close group of family and friends, the thought of moving into residential care or regularly coming out to a series of medical and social care professionals is extremely uncomfortable.

In light of the higher likelihood that older LGBT+ people will not have children or grandchildren, the chances of them requiring professional social or residential care is greater.

The lack of status afforded to friends as opposed to spouses and children can leave friends of older LGBT+ people legally powerless when it comes to assisting their older LGBT+ friends who require care.

Residential care can lead to increased levels of isolation for LGBT+ persons who can lose their social support circle once they enter residential care and often feel the need to 'go back in the closet'.

61% of LGB people in a 2010 Stonewall survey were concerned about whether these services are properly able to meet their needs.

One in six lesbian or bi women and one in nine gay or bi men reported discrimination, hostility or poor treatment because of their sexual orientation when using GP services.

These perceived breaches of the Equality Act 2010 are clearly concerning.

Whilst there is worthy focus on medical and social care professionals being trained to combat such issues, one scheme has gone one step further.

Manchester has plans to open the UK's first LGBT+ retirement community in 2020. Giving LGBT+ people the option of being cared for in a LGBT+ specific location could really help combat these issues.

Conclusion

Much energy is dedicated to the younger LGBT+ communities and all too often the issues faced by older LGBT+ people are ignored.

Whilst charities such as Opening Doors London aim to provide information and support services specifically for LGBT+ people over 50 in the UK, this level attention is often not replicated by other organisations and parts of society.

Days such as IDOP offer a timely reminder that society needs to give the issues faced by older LGBT+ people the attention they truly deserve in order to improve the lives of all parts of the LGBT+ community.

If you require any further support, contact Opening Doors London or Age UK.

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