Although Massachusetts has been at the forefront of marriage equality for many years, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that all states must recognize the rights of same-sex couples to get married. Marriages that were performed in other states joining same-sex spouses must be honored. However, before leaping into a marriage, both parties may want to familiarize themselves with the financial and legal consequences.
There are advantages to filing joint tax returns as this commonly results in lower tax liability. When it comes to estate taxes, laws may vary; but, historically, upon the death of one spouse, estate taxes may be deferred until the surviving spouse’s death. When a named beneficiary in a retirement fund is not a spouse, written consent may be required to authorize such an appointment. Upon the death of one spouse, his or her tax-deferred retirement savings can be allocated to the surviving spouse. While most employee benefit plans do not allow an unmarried partner to participate, many plans allow spousal participation.
A surviving spouse can retain Social Security benefits or — if the benefit of the deceased spouse is greater — it may be used by the surviving spouse. When same-sex spouses file for divorce, assets accumulated during their marriages will be divided fairly, but they will be governed by community property laws or equitable distribution laws — depending on the state in which they file for divorce. In most cases, property owned by married couples is presumed to belong to both, in equal shares. Marital debt will be the responsibility of both spouses and has to be divided upon a divorce. As married couples, same-sex partners will no longer be denied medical access or decision-making on behalf of incapacitated partners.
These are but some of the laws that will apply to same-sex spouses going forward. The recent Supreme Court ruling brings same-sex couples even closer to a state of equality. However, Massachusetts couples who are planning to get married may still have some unanswered questions that will best be answered by experienced attorneys who focus on same-sex family law.
Source: gazette.com, “MONEY & THE LAW: Marriage has huge financial and legal consequences”, July 5, 2015