The mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in June shook the country and the LGBT community at large. After a lone gunman killed 49 and wounded 53 people, the country came together to support the victims, their partners, and their families.
Millions of dollars were raised to help out the partners of many of the LGBT victims. But now Florida law is getting in the way of passing that money on to the intended people.
OneOrlando is an organization set up by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. There has been a lot of news surrounding OneOrlando since it began after the Pulse shooting, from celebrity support to controversy over where the money would be distributed. The OneOrlando fund has raised over $29 million since it began. But where exactly is the money going?
September 12 was the last day for survivors or family members of victims to submit claims to OneOrlando. Soon after, OneOrlando announced their plans to distribute the funds, including equal payments of $350,000 that would be given to families who lost a loved one. Additionally, 37 Pulse shooting victims and hundreds of clubgoers will also receive funds for medical care or mental health care.
Even though OneOrlando’s website set a goal of distributing payments by October 1, the threat of a temporary injunction and the related controversy has made it harder for the organization to continue distribution.
What’s going on? It seems as though OneOrlando has been forced to neglect one group due to provisions in Florida law: the unmarried partners of victims who died in the shooting.
Florida Law and Domestic Partnerships
Same-sex marriage became legal throughout the United States in 2015. But many states are still working out how to handle different family law or probate issues for same-sex couples, and many same-sex couples are still in the process of embracing and considering the possibility of marriage in their state.
Florida’s relationship laws take these issues one step further, because the state abolished common law marriage in 1968. In other words, living with a partner does not legally bind you to someone in Florida.
This leaves individuals who were not legally married to victims of the Pulse shooting without any legal avenues to receive the raised money. Instead, the funds will be sent to parents of the victims.
This has created tension between the partners and the parents of the victims, and may not properly reflect the wishes of the victims. A temporary injunction was filed to halt the distribution of funds, but was denied.
To resolve this issue, the funds may end up going through Florida probate court. This means that partners could end up getting funds if a judge rules in their favor, but that they will have to go through the often lengthy and complicated probate process first.
If You Are in a Domestic Partnership or Long-Term Relationship
The lives of the 49 victims in the Pulse shooting were taken without any warning. Many were young, including 18-year old Makyra Monet Murray and 19-year old Jason Benjamin Josaphat. At any age, we recommend having a plan for the future of your estate, and keeping your loved ones – all of them – in mind.
Contact a Florida probate attorney about how to set up end-of-life documents according to your wishes. These documents will help courts distribute funds to the people you love most, even if you are not blood relatives or bound by marriage.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation