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Estate Planning for Married Same-Sex Couples after June 2015

The landmark ruling of the Supreme Court from June 26, 2015 is nothing less an earthquake. By normalizing and equalizing marriage regulations nationwide, same-sex couples can be legally married and enjoy the same legal status as heterosexual couples bond by matrimony. In a country where 14 states used to have explicit bans on same-sex marriage and many treated such couples as legally alien to each other this means a lot of adjustment and planning.

The Differences of the Past

Before the ruling, the legal situation of such couples greatly depended on the state they happened to live in. If they were lucky enough to be denizens of a state that accommodated the needs of same-sex couples, they could enjoy some or all rights of an opposite-sex couple. On the other hand, if they lived outside such a state or even travelled to one, they would suddenly become two completely separate, completely unrelated persons. This included not just the ability to make medical decisions for their spouse, but also estate taxes in the case of death and filing a joint tax return. All of these are now available to same-sex couples.

Crucial Elements of Estate Planning for Married Same-Sex Couples Now

The most important change is that inheritance is now automatic for all married couples, without the need for Byzantine workarounds or even a will. Spouses pass on unlimited assets tax free on a federal level. It is a good idea to review the will and any arrangements made within prior to the ruling, to ensure that the provisions contained within won’t have unexpected effects.

Another important effect is that married spouses are empowered to make medical decisions for each other by default rather than requiring additional paperwork , which could be ignored or worse. However, just to be sure, it’s always a good idea to carry a copy of a document confirming the married status, especially during the transitional phase.

Tax filings are also simplified greatly thanks to the unified law, allowing for joint fillings regardless of the state. Of course, there is a caveat that the combined income of same-sex spouses can push them into a higher tax bracket than if they filed separately.

Unique Opportunities

The new regulations also allows for a number of unique opportunities. For example, unmarried same-sex couples with children can benefit from an adoption credit (over $13 dollars) if they exercise the right to adopt children of their partner through a process known as second parent adoption. This is a one time opportunity that expires the moment a couple enters matrimony. Of course, adoption will also stabilize the legal situation of a same-sex couple and their children, preventing or at least greatly limiting the chance for problems emerging down the line.

The precise scope of these opportunities remains largely unknown due to the body of law related to same-sex couples being very young, just a little over ten years old. While the Supreme Court ruling helps level the playing field, there are likely many more obstacles ahead, especially as states whose bans on same-sex marriage crumbled try to fight back.


The constant changes in law surrounding same-sex marriage make it difficult to know exactly how to same-sex couples should plan for their future. By consulting with a legal expert at Van Horn Law Group, you get the peace of mind of knowing that your home and other property hold no paperwork surprises in the future.

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Published by
Chad Van Horn

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