If you are part of a same-sex couple you have likely been paying close attention to a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS. If so, then you know that a decision was handed down in U.S. v. Windsor recently that is reason to celebrate for members of the LGBT community and for those who support them.
In short, SCOTUS ruled that the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, violates the Equal Protection Clause found in the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While many have wanted to challenge DOMA in the almost 20 years since its passage, it took an estate planning issue to finally bring it down. Windsor was unable to benefit from the unlimited marital deduction exemption when her same-sex partner died – an exemption that opposite sex married couples routinely rely on when estate planning – because they were a same-sex couple.
Now that SCOTUS has declared DOMA to be unconstitutional, the issue of same-sex marriage has been returned to the states. For federal benefit purposes, the definition of married will rely on the states. In practical terms, this means that same-sex couples will not be entitled to over a 1,000 benefits that they missed out on when DOMA was the law – including the ability to rely on the unlimited marital deduction.
For many same-sex couples this means that they need to review and update their estate plan to incorporate the long-awaited changes in the law.