Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on Colorado's designated beneficiary law

Last week I wrote about the new Colorado law that allows any two unmarried adults to become "designated beneficiaries" and thus gain what essentially amounts to next-of-kin status. I love this law!

But it's still not a statute that matches the purpose of various laws to the families/relationships that the law should encompass. Here's what I mean. It's perfect that the law allows designation of a medical and burial decisionmaker and a person who will inherit if you die without a will. That's because the purpose of any law on those subjects is to advance individual autonomy.

But the selection of a designated beneficiary also establishes who can sue for wrongful death or obtain employee partner benefits. When I consider the purpose of those laws, I don't think autonomy; I think economic interdependence. So ability to recover for wrongful death should attach to anyone in a relationship of economic dependence or interdependence. No marriage or registration should be required. In fact, even married couples should have to show economic interdependence to come within these laws.

Colorado does this now for workers compensation survivors benefits. The purpose of these benefits is compensation for the loss of an economic provider. A spouse -- and now a designated beneficiary -- cannot receive the benefit if s/he was not living with the worker who died or not dependent, at least in part, on the worker who died. So far so good.

But the benefit should go to anyone dependent in whole or in part of the deceased worker. A few states do this now. Those laws should be models for all states.

I'm still so excited about the new Colorado law. It's a big improvement over the all-or-nothing status based on whether a couple is married, and I love the fact that the two people can pick the legal consequences they want. More laws like this and it will be easier to see the wisdom of matching the purpose of any law and the relationships subject to that law.

4 comments:

onely.org said...

Thanks for writing about this law (we'll post about it over at Onely soon), and most especially for pointing out its pros and cons -- I appreciate your ability to write about these issues in all their complexities!

I wonder, though, if it's problematic to assume that two people who do not live together cannot be financially interdependent? Or are you suggesting that there simply needs to be "proof" of this (like receipts for bills paid and/or shared checking accounts, etc.)?

-- Lisa

Robin said...

Thank you for your excellent blog - I found it while chasing additional information about the specifics of our new law.

Please consider setting up a facebook account for your blog and books. I have linked your blog into my page, and it should get some mileage there; however... facebook is viral and a very effective tool in moving information quickly! Your insights are invaluable and should be shared! Facebook has a very wide age demographic...

Thanks again,
Robin

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