NEW YORK (MainStreet) As some same-sex couples begin to plan for the "big day" in states like New Jersey, which became the fourteenth state to recognize same-sex marriage last month, financial advisors heed these couples to examine the impact of tying the knot on their personal finances.
"We now have a country that is a mosaic of different relationships," said Drew Gulley, director of strategic partnerships at Lambda Legal, who develops financial planning curricula for the gay community. "It's a state-by-state roll-out in term of how each state interacts with the new federal guidance."
The Internal Revenue Service changed its policy effective on August 29 after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June. The IRS now recognizes any same-sex marriage entered into legally irrespective of whether the couple lives in a state where marriage is legal.
"In the eyes of the federal government, you are married and you get more access to benefits at least at the federal level." Gulley said.
There are more than 130,000 married gay and lesbian couples in the United States, according to U. S. Census Bureau data in 2010. And with more states, notably the recent decision in New Jersey to legalize same-sex marriage, that number is expected to rise.
A gay couple that exchanges vows in New Jersey, but resides in Texas, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, is still afforded the same benefits and tax deductions under the new guidance. These federal benefits do not include Social Security benefits, as the agency only awards benefits to same-sex couples in recognition states.
"If you live in one of those states or a jurisdiction that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage or you own property in a jurisdiction that doesn't recognize same sex marriage, then you're still going to be saddled with or be treated as if you're a single individual in that state," said Bruce Hoffmeister, a senior financial planner at Wilmington Trust.
Financial advisors say the ruling made the tax situation easier for those couples living in the 14 states plus the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage, but it didn't solve all the problems because now such couples must file married or joint.
"The bigger reason for not getting married is to have to do with bigger things like avoiding the marriage penalty," said Joshua Hatfied-Charles of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc.
The marriage penalty impacts the higher net worth couples that both have higher earnings, Hatfield-Charles said. "And, if you have any type of partner has a major medical issue and is in need of Medicaid then that might be a challenge as well," he said.
"Most gay couples I know are waiting to get married to see how it plays out politically," said Alexander Gish, a New York resident who married his husband in Canada earlier this year.
Under the IRS ruling, any couple who enters marriage legally outside of the U.S., such as in Canada, is recognized as having a valid marriage. And this couple would be recognized as married for tax purposes in a state like New York.
"In the past you had to look at same-sex couples as nothing more than legal strangers," said Hatfield-Charles, who added that there had to be a lot more planning with estates, partnership agreements, account titles and beneficiaries before the IRS ruling.
Financial advisors say married same-sex couples will have to look at amending old income tax returns, retitling assets, altering estate plans and ultimately deciding on which partner should officially own the investments or vacation home, if not both.
Under the new IRS rules, same-sex couples will also be able to reduce or even eliminate federal taxes on estates and gifts. Non-spouse beneficiaries pay tax on property above certain minimums, which is $5.25 million for estates and $14,000 a year for federal gifts.
"I think the most interesting thing about same sex marriage in terms of financial planning and estate planning is the unlimited marital deductions available for husband and husband and wife and wife and spouse to spouse," Hoffmeister said.
Spouses can also leave an unlimited amount of property to the surviving spouse without incurring state taxes in states that recognize same-sex marriage, the Wilmington Trust financial advisor said.
"Basically, we're almost privy to all the same benefits on the federal level as long as you're married in one of those states that allows recognition for the place of celebration," Hatfield-Charles said.
Every decision made, in terms of organizing the financial house, has some sort of state ramification, financial planners say.
"It's great that we have more states coming on board, but I think the bigger challenge is the protection of the state in which you live," Hatfield-Charles said. "You still have a lot of financial planning to do so that you have proper protections when you cross those state lines."
--Written by Farran Powell for MainStreet