Archive for Areas of Practice
RELATIONSHIP SERIES – PART 1
The poignant documentary, “Bridegroom” written and directed by Linda Bloodworth–Thomason (who created and wrote the television series “Designing Women”), vividly illustrates the human cost of a same-sex couple’s failure to do any type of estate planning. It tells the story of Tom and Shane, two young men in a loving, committed, 6-year-long relationship that was tragically cut short by an accident. The heartbreaking tale of what happened after the accident proves just how critical appropriate estate planning documents are for same-sex and other unmarried couples. Click here to watch an overview of the film on YouTube.
After Tom’s accident, his family, who disapprove of his relationship with Shane, takes over and refuses to allow Shane to visit Tom in the hospital. They even prevent Shane from attending Tom’s funeral. Without a marriage license or proper estate planning documents, Shane has no rights under the law, resulting in the anguish which haunts Shane to this day and is so eloquently portrayed in the documentary. The true tragedy is that, regardless of whether Tom and Shane could have been legally married at the time of Tom’s accident, they should have been able to plan in a way that would have given Shane legal rights similar to those of a spouse.
At the very least, same-sex and other unmarried couples in Florida can execute critical lifetime planning documents including a designation of health care surrogate and general durable power of attorney. Under Florida law, Tom could have named Shane as his health care surrogate, i.e. the person to make health care decisions for him if he became unable to do so. This would have permitted Shane to be in the hospital room, consult with doctors, and direct the medical care provided to Tom. A general durable power of attorney would have given Shane access to Tom’s finances to pay for the necessary care.
Death planning documents, at a minimum, should have included a will naming Shane as Tom’s personal representative. This would have given Tom the right to plan and pay for the funeral, as well as to ensure that Tom’s assets were distributed according to his wishes. Living trust planning could have gone one step farther, allowing Tom to include more detailed instructions to take care of and protect himself and Shane.
Some relationships cry out more than others for a need to do estate planning. Same-sex and other long-term relationships without marriage are a key example. Our next installment of the Relationship Series will discuss why “Blended Families” are another.
ESTATE PLANNING FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES IN 2014
The Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning, held every January, is the nation’s leading conference for estate planners. This year’s most-discussed topic was big changes in planning for same-sex couples.
The discourse focused on last year’s major decision of United States v. Windsor. In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined “marriage” and “spouse” for federal purposes as only applicable to heterosexual couples. The result is that a marriage between any two persons now will be recognized under federal law if it is recognized under the law of the state where it occurred.
The practical result is that same-sex married couples now have access to federal estate and tax planning tools. This includes use of the marital deduction, portability, disclaimers, joint income tax returns, grantor trusts, spousal rollover of qualified retirement accounts, joint ownership of property, split gifting to maximize annual gift tax exemption, marriage settlement agreements, and GST transfer planning (i.e., reverse QTIP).
On the other hand, same-sex married couples will feel the impact of the “Marriage Penalty” on their tax rates, mortgage interest deductions, and more, just like heterosexual married couples.
Although the Windsor decision has clearly brought about significant change, it did not invalidate DOMA as a whole. Instead, it left intact Section 2 of DOMA, which allows the states, U.S. territories, and Indian Tribes to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, territories, or tribes. As a result, the lack of uniformity of laws among the states will continue to create issues for same-sex couples to navigate with the assistance of tax and estate planning professionals.
The focus at Heckerling was on the tax and financial implications of these new laws. Stay tuned for our “Relationship Series” where we will focus on the more personal and human side of planning in different relationships.