Estate Planning for Same-Sex Married Couples

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court decided that the United States Constitution requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriage. The result of the decision is that same-sex married couples will enjoy equal rights with opposite-sex married couples regardless of the state in which they were married or choose to reside.

This ruling, paired with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2013 in United States v. Windsor, opens numerous federal benefits and impacts estate planning decisions for same-sex couples, including:

  • Filing of a joint tax return as a married couple and benefiting from the unlimited marital deduction for the estate tax.
  • Allowing joint parental rights to adoptive parents.
  • Providing inheritance and intestate succession rights.
  • Granting medical decision-making authority.

Thirty seven states and Washington DC had previously ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and have been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The ruling does not change the rights for same-sex couples who reside in these states; however, same-sex marriages are now recognized in all states, including states that did not previously recognize same-sex marriage.  The Court’s decision recognizes that the right to marry is a fundamental right for all couples throughout the United States and, as such, all couples have equal footing under the law.  Couples should consult with an experienced attorney in order to better understand how this decision affects their estate planning.

About the Author: Andrew Mackerer