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Estate Planning for Same-Sex Unions

While 19 states recognized same-sex unions, as of the end of May 2014, 31 still didn't. The rift means that couples must take special precautions to have the right estate and emergency-health care legal documents in place - and often on hand.

Whether already married or planning to tie the knot soon, same-sex couples need to make sure they have reviewed where they stand on several issues. There are a few "must-dos" that need to be addressed financially, as pointed out in a recent Investopedia article titled "Must-Do Financial Moves For Same-Sex Marriages."

The IRS made it clear only weeks after the Supreme Court decision came down: On a federal level, same-sex marriages now get the tax benefits and, in many cases, the biggest headaches that come with tying the knot. The good news is that same-sex couples now enjoy many of the privileges that were previously out of reach. They include:

  • Employee benefits, such as employee health insurance, can be shared tax-free and are no longer treated as taxable compensation;
  • It's now possible to use one spouse's loss-investments, income or others-to offset the other spouse's gains;
  • Couples with a large gap in incomes-when one spouse stays home to tend to children while the other works-can also potentially lock in a lower tax rate on a joint return (the "marriage benefit"); and
  • Federal estate taxes no longer apply to assets that pass to one spouse when the other dies, up to a threshold of just over $5 million.

The change also makes it possible to file amended forms for up to three years back to claim refunds, Investopedia notes. You may now be eligible for taxes you paid for health coverage or marriage benefit breaks you previously missed out on, if you were married and based upon on how you filed. You may also have grounds to file for a refund on federal estate taxes you paid on what you inherited from your same-sex spouse-provided you were married.

These new guidelines mean you may find yourself experiencing the marriage penalty, especially if both earn high incomes. In addition, if you live in a state that doesn't recognize your marriage and whose taxes do not conform to federal guidelines, you may have to file your federal return under one status and your state return under another. To be sure, ask your estate planning attorney to review your estate and health crisis documents. You may need to draw up an entirely new set of legal documents.

For more information please visit my estate planning website.

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