When a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage, it spelled many changes for same-sex couples and their families. Among other things, it made momentous changes to their financial planning outlook. One significant change was that these couples no longer have to navigate a hodgepodge of state and federal laws to map their financial outlook and address many other important legal concerns. The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) examines the current financial landscape for these couples and offers some advice to address their unique concerns.
Make the most of the benefits
The 2015 Supreme Court decision — and another important ruling in 2013 — simplified many financial planning considerations for same-sex couples. Estate planning has become easier in many ways because, among other things, a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage can now inherit the couple’s assets without paying estate tax. As a result, couples may want to reconsider any previous plans they had in place and revise them as necessary. Tax time should be easier, too, because couples filing jointly can file one federal tax return and one state return in any state. It’s still a good idea, however, to review how a change in marital status for tax purposes could have an impact on your tax situation and to consider new tax planning approaches. Members of same-sex couples are also eligible for spousal benefits, such as health insurance coverage and life insurance, without being taxed for them, so be sure that your beneficiary designations on these policies are up to date. Workers in same-sex marriages must be given leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and they have full access to Social Security spousal retirement and survivor benefits, as well as veteran and military benefits. These are among the factors you should take into account as you chart your financial plan.
Update existing documents
Before the most recent Supreme Court ruling, couples often drew up power of attorney documents and health care directives in case, for example, they needed to make medical decisions for a spouse in a state that did not recognize their marriage. All couples should still have power of attorney documents and health care directives to address health care and financial concerns, but consult your CPA or attorney about updating any existing documents as needed.
Protect your legacy
It’s very important to write a will because it creates fewer complications for your loved ones when you die and helps ensure that your wishes are carried out. This may become even more important if a couple has children. A will helps ensure that your children are cared for according to your wishes and your loved ones receive their intended legacy.
Your local CPA can help
These court decisions did not remove all financial planning challenges for same-sex couples. While many common sense financial planning practices may apply to any family, a total of 53 percent of couples surveyed after the ruling reported there were still open issues in the family’s finances due to their status as a same-sex couple, according to a UBS poll. The Supreme Court rulings were cause for celebration for same-sex couples, but if you’re not sure how to address the financial impact they may have, be sure to check with your local CPA. He or she can offer advice customized for your family’s needs.