By Janet Al-Saad
NEW YORK (
After the Supreme Court's historic 5-4 decision today striking down the constitutionality of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married gay couples can enjoy many of the same benefits and legal recognitions of their heterosexual counterparts. This is news worth celebrating, since it's not only a historic step toward equality,
but also of great benefit to gays' financial futures.
Some of the immediate benefits include the ability for married couples to file taxes jointly and an elimination or reduction of the estate and gift taxes -- all of which can result in thousands in savings.
It's worth keeping in mind, however, that DOMA's repeal currently only benefits same-sex couples in states that already legally recognize such marriages. Still, because more states are likely to approve gay unions in the coming months and years -- and further Supreme Court decisions may emerge -- non-married gay couples should take action to protect joint finances.
Here's what gay couples should do to take advantage of their new protections:
Create a Will
It sounds simple (and perhaps a little morbid), but many gay couples haven't yet contemplated what will happen to their estate upon their passing. That's a shame, because it was at the heart of the issue that brought the landmark DOMA case before the Supreme Court: the spouse of a deceased gay person was required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional taxes because they weren't an officially recognized spouse.
If you don't have a will, get one - and make sure your spouse or domestic partner is listed as you wish. A living will is also useful if you intend for your spouse or partner to make decisions for you in the event of catastrophic illness, or if you wish to have them serve as executors of your estate/power of attorney.
Though the laws regarding domestic partner benefits are more nebulous, there is reason to believe benefits will soon (or eventually, anyway) be extended. Plus, even states that don't yet recognize gay marriage may do so in the future. Consult with an attorney about the legal nuances here; you'll want your will to have the best odds of treating your spouse or partner as the recipient of your inheritance (or whatever portion thereof you intend).