Most people put off reviewing their estate plans and making any necessary changes because it is not something they typically look forward to doing. For millions of same-sex couples throughout the United States though, a recent Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, DOMA decision will likely have them flocking to their estate planning attorneys to make revisions to their plans.
The reason for the sudden interest in estate plan revisions is that the SCOTUS decision makes thousands of federal benefits that were once off limits for same-sex couples available. U.S. v. Windsor may very well go down in the history books as one of the most significant decisions of the 21st century. Ironically, the facts of the case itself relate to estate planning. Specifically, Windsor was forced to pay a significant tax bill to the IRS when her same-sex partner died and left her a sizable estate. Had the couple been a heterosexual married couple, Windsor would have owed the IRS nothing because she could have used the unlimited marital deduction.
Windsor challenged the tax bill based on a claim that the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, could not define marriage as between a man and a woman because that violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the end, SCOTUS agreed, striking down the provision of DOMA and empowering the states alone to enact marriage laws. Along with thousands of other benefits that were previously denied to them, same-sex married couples can now count on using the unlimited marital deduction in their estate plans. The DOMA decision will likely lead to much awaited changes in the estate plans of many in the LGBT community.
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