How the Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision Will Affect Estate
Income Tax Planning for Same-Sex Couples
In a landmark decision yesterday in the case of United States v. Windsor (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_g2bh.pdf), the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA is a U.S. federal law that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriage, thereby preventing married same-sex couples from receiving the benefits federal law gives to married heterosexual couples. In their 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated equal protection rights. While this decision does not alter the rights of same-sex couples under the laws of the state in which they reside, it allows married same-sex couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage, including Connecticut, to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. While this is obviously a symbolic step forward for marriage equality, the decision will also lead to significant tangible benefits for same-sex couples.
Married same-sex couples will now be able to claim the 1,138 federal rights related to civil heterosexual marriage. These rights apply in areas such as employment benefits, social security benefits, and veterans benefits. They will be able to file joint federal income tax returns. This will likely result in the need for affected couples to make adjustments in income tax planning. Retirement and estate plans are also likely to need updating. Validly married same-sex couples in Connecticut should contact their attorneys regarding changes that may need to be made regarding their estate plans.
The effects of this decision on estate planning are far-reaching and may include the following income tax and estate planning issues:
- Inter Vivos Gifts
- Amended gift tax returns
- Gift tax returns beyond the statute of limitations
- Spousal rollover
- Beneficiary designations
- ERISA and REA
- Community Property issues
- Marital Agreements
- Joint tax returns
- Amended income tax returns
- Income tax returns beyond the statute of limitations
- Rollover IRAs at death
- Section 1041 and divorce issues
It will take some time for things to settle down following today’s decision. Same-sex couples and their advisors will need some time to determine how best to navigate the new legal landscape. In the coming days, we will be identifying and expanding on some of these important issues in order to educate advisors and same-sex couples seeking to understand the impact of this decision on their estate plans and the rights and benefits that will now become available to them.