While we rightfully have focused initially on the matter of “simple dignity” of giving same sex couples the equal right to marry as heterosexual couples, we should also point out that the equal marital status conveys a number of immediate practical financial benefits as well.
In the Windsor case decided two years ago, the Court held that federal benefits available to spouses of heterosexual couples could not be denied to same sex couples. The Obergefell decision extends these benefits to the state and local level. How might this work in a practical sense? Here are some ways:
- Ability to file state tax returns as married
- Ability to receive state worker’s compensation benefits
- Ability to receive survivor benefits as spouse of state employee
- Ability to receive pension benefits as spouse of state employee
- Ability to claim family-related tax exemptions
- Ability to share health insurance as spouse
After Windsor and Obergefell, no state may deny to same sex spouses the benefits conveyed to heterosexual spouses, so any state or local benefit qualifies, and the list of these benefits is literally in the thousands.
Not everyone dies with a will; when that happens, a person is said to die intestate, and every state has laws of intestacy, which includes a provision that a spouse gets a certain percentage of the decedent’s estate (the percentage varies by state). Now, same sex spouses can claim these benefits.
The availability of so many new benefits means that spouses should consult with an attorney or accountant to determine what benefits need to be pursued and also what financial planning might need to be done given the new array of benefits. You might want to take an inventory of all benefits that allow a beneficiary designee or have automatic designations for spouses, and be sure that your spouse is listed.
We did not intend this post to be exhaustive coverage of all the concerns, but rather a call to awareness of how much may be available financially because of the equality of legal status and the steps to be taken to assure full claim to these benefits.
If you have questions about financial benefits and same sex marriage, contact us – we can help.