Gerald Tarutis

What Same-Sex Couples Need To Know About Estate Planning

Posted by Gerald Tarutis on September 30, 2015

Same-sex couples fought long and hard to be granted the legal protections offered through marriage, which Washington State voters finally approved in 2012. Now, thousands of same-sex couples have taken advantage of their recently acknowledged constitutional right and for many couples this means it’s time to start planning for their future.

Estate planning for same-sex couples has become much easier since the 2015 Supreme Court decision to grant marriage equality in all 50 states. No longer do same-sex couples need to worry about which states may consider their union legally-binding, nor do they need to concern themselves with matters like estate tax (which is waived for legally-married couples). Still, legal marriage doesn’t make estate planning unimportant, and same-sex couples should still meet with a lawyer to ensure their affairs are in order.

Basic estate needs for same-sex couples

The basics of estate planning for same-sex couples are similar to those of heterosexual couples. Though legal marriage means that a partner can inherit property without a Last Will and Testament, simply referred to a ‘Will,’ it’s still important for couples to determine how to share and manage finances in life, as well as to whom they would like to leave their assets in death. This includes real estate (whether purchased together or not), cash assets and personal belongings.

A Will can be very useful for determining inheritance, designating wishes for childcare and naming a Personal Representative, previously referred to as ‘Executor.’ These are all extremely important needs and they should be outlined long before it becomes necessary. Meeting with a lawyer early on in a marriage, or even before, can be essential for not only peace of mind, but in the event of an emergency where immediate decisions are necessary.

Same-sex couples should also consider addressing both financial and health care durable powers of attorney together to ensure both parties are aware of their partner’s needs and wishes. This can be greatly important in times of emergency; though same-sex marriage is legal in all states, societal norms can still threaten the rights of couples and creating a firm legal ground can be crucial.

The new rules around divorce

No one likes thinking that a union could end in divorce, however, same-sex couples now need to think about it more than ever, at least from a legal standpoint. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, divorce action could only be brought in some states and Washington was one of those states.  Now, a same-sex couple, regardless of where they were married, can file for divorce legally in any state. This means that couples need to prepare their estates for the possibility of divorce.

An experienced lawyer can help you ensure that your personal assets are protected, that support decisions are made fairly and equitably, and that custody of children doesn’t become an issue in the event of a divorce.

Estate planning for both legal and non-legal matters

Heterosexual couples may not realize the many ways that gender norms decide matters both legal and non-legal, but for same-sex couples these issues are a factor in everyday life.  Even when same-sex couples become legally married, child care, emergency decisions, hospital visits, asset division and end-of-life care may all be impacted by the societal perception of their union rather than the legal protections it grants.

Estate planning for any couple is not just about drafting a Will to avoid estate taxes. It is about planning for your family’s future knowing you and your family will be well cared during life and upon your death. Estate planning is a highly individualized process and can include many tools however this doesn’t mean that effective estate planning needs to be overly complicated or expensive. An experienced attorney familiar with the many nuances and estate planning tools available to individuals can greatly ease the process and allow you to have peace of mind knowing that you and your loved ones wellbeing will be protected.

Have questions about Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning in Washington State?

The Estate Planning and Probate attorneys at Tarutis | Brunstrom in Seattle, Washington can help navigate you through this process so that estate planning is straightforward, effective and can be resolved promptly and appropriately. To learn more about the services we offer throughout all of Washington, or to schedule a consultation, please call (206) 223-1515 or complete our online contact form.