With the historic striking down of part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, all couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal may enjoy the 1,138 spousal benefits provided by the federal government. As of today, this ruling only applies to the approximately 130,000 gay couples in the 13 states where gay marriage is now legal. President Barack Obama has called for all the federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples to be extended to all married couples, no matter where they live, but this will take some further action to be a reality.
Here are just a few of the major financial benefits that same-sex couples will now enjoy for the first time. Just to be clear, there may be some bumps in the road as old laws are taken off the books, and human resources departments and the IRS catch up with new regulations and benefits.
Here is a Cliff's Notes version of some of the benefits coming our way:
Estate Taxes: The central theme of the DOMA case was that Edie Windsor had to pay $360,000 is estate taxes simply because the federal government didn’t recognize her marriage, but legally married couples can pass unlimited amounts of assets between each other. This is can be a huge benefit if a one spouse passes away. Also, same-sex spouses will have more standing in the legal system as a beneficiary than your fifth cousin. Estate tax law still varies state to state, so consulting an estate planning attorney familiar with LGBT issues is still recommended.
Tax Status: This one may be a mixed blessing. For some couples, this will make life easier and save them money on their tax bills. And for other couples, especially those will two high incomes, it may end up costing them more in taxes. Short answer: You should be able to file your taxes just like any other married couple. No more jumping through a million hoops to file separately at the federal level and jointly at state, like couples here in California have had to do for the past few years. You should check with your tax professional to see if this will save or cost you money, so you can make adjustments to avoid giving the government a big loan until tax time or getting a big surprise next spring.
Health Insurance: Receiving health insurance benefits on a spouse’s plan will no longer be
IRA Benefits: Spousal IRAs should now be available for married couples with a nonworking spouse. This may be a great way to lower your tax bill and save more for retirement in a tax-deferred account. Your new filing status may affect what you can contribute to IRAs, so check with your tax professional or financial planner.
Social Security: The exact extent of this benefit will take time to see how it plays out. But going forward, all married couples will have access to Social Security based on a spouse's earnings and survivorship benefits if one spouse passes away. I think same-sex couples will still be at a disadvantage for some time on this because you often have to be married for a certain period of time (like 10 years) before you are eligible for spousal benefits, or even benefits on your ex-spouse after a divorce. We will have to see when that clock is started on benefits.
Congratulation on receiving some 1,138 new benefits from the federal government. All now federally recognized married couples should sit down and review their financial plans and see how these new benefits will affect them and what steps they need to take to stay on track to reach all of their financial goals. Some of these new benefits may force you to have financial conversations you have been able to avoid in the past. Your new tax filing status my make it quite a bit harder to keep your finances completely separate.
DAVID RAE, CFP®, is a retirement planning specialist with Trilogy Financial Services, specializing in the needs of the LGBT community, and a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow him @davidraecfp, Davidraefp.com or at Facebook.com/DavidRaeCFP.
Securities and advisory services offered through National Planning Corporation, member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Trilogy and NPC are separate and unrelated entities. NPC is not engaged in the rendering of tax or legal advice.