When it comes to having a successful marriage, good financial planning is a must.
With the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA in 2013, gay married couples in over 35 states and the District of Columbia have essentially the same financial rights and benefits that straight married couples enjoy. Gay couples who have had marriage ceremonies in the other states face not only inequality when it comes to state and federal recognition of their unions, but also the financial inequality that goes along with it. Things get even more complicated if a legally-married gay or lesbian couple move to a state that doesn't recognize their marriage, and they find that they may have to forfeit at least some the financial benefits and freedoms that they had become accustomed to on the state level.
In either case, until all states and the federal government recognize all gay marriages as legal, gay married couples face a labyrinth of financial equality and inequality that good financial planning can help them navigate.
So, whether your marriage will be recognized by the state and federal government or not, here are the four financial plans every gay couple should make before they get married.
Know Your Spousal Health Insurance Rights: Thanks to Obamacare, as of January 1, 2015, health insurance carriers must offer the same coverage to legally-married same sex couples as it does to opposite sex couples, regardless of where the couple lives or where the insurance company is located. You can read about your health insurance rights here.
If you were married in a state that does not recognize your union, one carrier may recognize your marriage, one may not. Unfortunately, things get complicated if one of you, say, plans to leave your job and raise children, and you only have one plan to choose from. The only way to be able to plan is to go to both your carriers and ask questions.
Find Out From a Tax Advisor Whether It's Best to File Jointly or Continue to File as an Individual: Since the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA legally gay married couples can now file federal taxes jointly and receive write-offs and deductions that can amount to, essentially, a lower tax rate.
But just because you have the right to file jointly doesn't mean it's actually best for you. For instance, if both spouses are self-employed, it may actually be more beneficial to file individual returns. So don't file jointly just because you can -- speak to your tax advisor about what will actually work in your favor.
If a legally-married gay couple moves to a state that has not legalized same sex marriage, the good news is that the IRS will continue to recognize your marriage for tax purposes. You can read more about your rights when it comes to federal taxes here. Note: you will still have to file as a "single" for the state.
Whether You're Legally Married or Not, You Should Consider a Will: Historically, for all straight married couples, if one spouse died everything would automatically go to the surviving spouse unless otherwise stated in a will. The same laws now apply for the surviving spouse of a legally married same-sex couple regardless of the state they live in.
For non-legally married gay couples, the surviving spouse does not automatically inherit everything. In those cases, if there is not a will that clearly states whom should inherit the deceased spouse's estate, then that estate will go into probate and the court will decide who receives the assets.
Regardless of whether your marriage is legally recognized or not, inheritances can be protested by extended family members. The only way to ensure that your spouse is the beneficiary of your estate upon death is to clearly state so in a will.
As a result of the DOMA ruling, a surviving spouse whose marriage is legally recognized will not pay taxes on the estate on the death of their spouse. In the other states the surviving spouse still will.
Although this is currently the law that gay married couples have to confront in those states, planning can help even the score somewhat. One option is for a gay couple to transfer ownership of their assets to a trust. Because the assets are owned by a trust and not by a person, if a spouse dies there will be no taxes levied on those assets. Another option is to set up a life insurance policy to pay the estate taxes.
Educate Yourself On Your Retirement Benefits Now: Employment retirement benefits, IRAs, 401ks, pension plans and social security are issues that all married couples will have to plan for at some point. Since the repeal of section 3 of DOMA, legally-married gay couples have all the rights straight married couples have in regards to being automatically given the same spousal benefits.
Gay married couples who were never legally married are not so lucky. For instance, if a spouse's employer does not recognize the marriage, a spouse may not be considered a family member, and thus will not be the beneficiary of that pension if that spouse dies. The only way to prevent that is to specifically list your partner as the beneficiary.
Federally-run retirement programs like Social Security and Medicare now provide spousal benefits to all legally married gay couples, even if they moved to a state that does not recognize their marriage. Although the Social Security Act must still follow state law when it comes to entitlement benefits and same sex relationships, the Social Security Administration is still working on its policy towards non-legally recognized same-sex marriages. You can read more about your rights when it comes to Social Security here.
The same does not apply for Medicaid, though -- as a state-run program, a legally married gay couple can be denied spousal benefits if they move to a state that does not recognize their marriage.
One day soon, same sex couples won't have to play hopscotch with financial equality and inequality, but until then, good financial planning can help ensure you come out a winner.
Content in this material is for general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. You should discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.
Michael Most may only discuss and/or transact securities business with residents of the following states: (CA, CT, FL, GA, NC, NJ, NY).