The highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court, recently heard oral arguments on a case that may drastically change estate planning, as well as other areas of the law, for the LGBT community.
The case before the Court began back in 2009 when the petitioner’s same-sex partner of 44 years died. Her partner left a sizable estate to her which incurred over $350,000 in estate and gift taxes. Had the couple been considered legally married under federal law, the asset transfer would have been exempt from estate taxes pursuant to the unlimited marital deduction exemption.
Unfortunately for this woman, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, defines marriage as a union between a man and women. Therefore, even same-sex couples who are legally married under state law are not considered married for the purpose of federal law or benefits. The petitioner filed suit to recover the estate taxes paid under the theory that DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Lower courts have so far agreed with the petitioner. The fate of the case, and the future of many LGBT issues, now rests with the SCOTUS.
If the SCOTUS agrees with the lower courts, it could result in far more than simply giving the petitioner back the funds paid in taxes. It could make over 1,000 federal benefits available to legally married same-sex partners. Anyone who could be affected by the outcome of the case should consult with his or her estate planning attorney to make any necessary changes to their estate plan if the outcome is favorable.