Estate planning for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania continues to be extremely important to protect your partner and your legacy. United States vs. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court Case which landed a strong blow against the Defense of Marriage Act, was based on the unfair treatment of homosexual couples under the federal estate tax laws. So what happens in Pennsylvania where same-sex marriage is not yet legal? In Pennsylvania, heterosexual married couples and same-sex couples are treated very differently. For example, the Informal Health Care Decision Making Act allows spouses to make health care decisions for each other without any formal paperwork. Same-sex couples, since they are not legally married, are not entitled to the same privilege. Under Pennsylvania inheritance tax laws, married heterosexual spouses receive all property from a deceased spouse free of inheritance tax. Conversely, same-sex couples who are not married will be taxed at a 15% rate. If a man married to a woman dies without a will, his property will pass to her automatically. However, life partners in same-sex relationships are not entitled to any property from their deceased partner's estate. It is clear that Pennsylvania law has some catching up to do. While we wait on the law makers to make changes, how can same-sex couples plan their estates?
All same-sex couples should consult with an estate planning attorney to craft a plan that will ensure that their significant other is given their rightful place as an heir and a decision maker. Durable Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directives will allow couples to name each other as financial and medical decision makers, respectively. By creating a will and other related documents, a living trust, perhaps, same-sex couples can be sure that their passes to one another in the most efficient way possible. Estate planning for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania can also include other forms of planning, such as joint ownership, beneficiary designations on retirement plans and life insurance policies, can ensure that same-sex couples are given the same rights and privileges that heterosexual married couples receive under the law. Some same-sex couples have even resorted to adopting their partner to avoid the 15% inheritance tax rate. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/gay-man-adopts-partner-avoid-inheritance-tax/story?id=19512067#.Ud8slPk3tKf)
Slowly but surely, laws are changing across the country. While we wait, it is best to be prepared for whatever may happen next. If you have any estate planning questions, feel free to contact me at www.mcmorrowlaw.com or 724-940-0100.