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Monday, March 12, 2012

Estate Planning for Same Sex Couples

In many jurisdictions, estate planning for same sex couples can be quite complex. In some states, the laws are favorable to non-traditional couples and in others, they are not (like Pennsylvania). There are also states like New Jersey, where the laws themselves can be favorable to same sex couples if you enter into a Civil Union, but there is still Tax Planning that must be done.

In states where the laws are unfavorable to same sex couples, without structuring your affairs properly, one partner may not inherit from the other. Moreover, without a
Power of Attorney or Guardianship in place, one partner may even not be allowed to visit the other in a hospital or make financial or health care decisions for the other.

To structure your affairs properly, you should prepare a
Will, Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney and properly title your assets. The proper titling of your assets, including naming beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, brokerage assets and bank accounts must not be overlooked. Without doing this, your plan will fail.

If you are ready to make a commitment to each other, you should take advantage of whatever laws the state you live in offers, whether it is a marriage, a Civil Union or a Domestic Partnership. To give you an idea of some of the benefits this can offer:

  1. In NJ, a civil union partner and a domestic partner are entitled to receive the death certificate of the deceased partner.

  2. A surviving civil union partner is automatically allowed to inherit as if he or she was a surviving spouse; and

  3. A surviving civil union partner is deemed to be first in line to act as an administrator (if the decedent has failed to prepare a Will) or guardian (if the partner has failed to prepare a Power of Attorney).
You should also be aware that New Jersey has not updated all of its statutes to comply with their own Civil Union Law. For example, 37:1-31 states that NJ Civil Union Couples shall have all the rights of married couples. However, the inheritance tax law does not use the phrase Civil Union Couples - only domestic partners, as it was last updated prior to the enactment of the Civil Union law. Even though the inheritance tax statute has not been updated, NJ Division of Taxation has updated its forms and I have not heard of any instances in which NJ has tried to tax the surviving partners of a civil union.

Among the things that I find get overlooked when same sex couples plan for themselves is that they do not consider what will happen to their assets if both of them should pass simultaneously nor do they consider the most tax efficient way to structure their assets. So while much of the material here you may have read elsewhere, you should realize that a good estate planning attorney can help you customize a comprehensive, tax efficient plan for you.

1 comment:

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