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How the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Gay Marriage Affects Estate Planning


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The Supreme Court’s ruling to allow same sex marriage in all 50 states was historic. And while many people around the world are celebrating, few consider the implications such a decision will have on estate planning.

Opposite-sex married couples have enjoyed the luxury of being able to estate plan in a relatively straightforward manner since the birth of America. Now, gay and lesbian couples are afforded these same luxuries. No longer will same-sex couples have to look for loopholes in the law to ensure their partners are taken care of should something happen. The landmark ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges means that millions of Americans can not only marry, but also pass their legacy on to their partners.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, James Obergefell wanted his marriage to his partner John Arthur to be recognized legally before Arthur died of ALS. One cannot underestimate the symbolism of such legal recognition. Obergefell desperately wanted to be listed as Arthur’s spouse on his death certificate — something as simple as checking a box. Yet until the Supreme Court’s decision, checking that box was not possible in every state for members of the lesbian and gay community.

Another example of how the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage has impacted estate planning for same-sex couples can be seen in the case of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse. The Michigan couple had adopted four special needs children, yet they couldn’t do so as a married couple. According to Michigan State law, a same-sex couple could not adopt children. Instead, DeBoer and Rowse had to adopt each child individually. As a result, this meant that if DeBoer or Rowse passed away, the surviving spouse would have no legal right to parent the children.

In still another important case, Thomas Kostura, in accordance with state law, lost his legal recognition as the spouse of his partner Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe whenever he traveled across state lines on his way home to Tennessee. This meant that if DeKoe were to die while serving abroad, Kostura would not be afforded the same military spouse benefits that opposite-sex married couples are entitled to receive.

The law is ever-changing and designed to reflect the needs of society. In estate planning, whenever laws are amended, it is important that you speak to an attorney to find out how you and your loved ones may be affected.

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