Supreme Court on Gay Marriage: Estate Planning Changes

rainbow-13902_640For those of us with a Supreme Court habit, the end of June is an exciting time. It’s kind of like October baseball, it’s when the big decisions get announced, at the very end of the year’s term.

This June, there are two big cases in the wings: one on gay marriage and one on Obamacare. If the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage on a state-wide basis, married gay couples will gain all of the legal rights afforded hetereosexual couples, including the right to receive Social Security and Veteran’s benefits. These two agencies look to state determinations of marital status, so gay couples in states that don’t yet allow gay marriage are generally ineligible for these (and other state-specific) benefits.

From an estate planning perspective (mine) the case has a few other possible implications, summarized here, but covered in more depth by the New York Times:

  1. Gay couples would gain the right to administer a spouse’s estate, bring wrongful death suits, and prevent other relatives from contesting Wills.
  2. Getting a divorce would become possible for married gay couples in all states.
  3. Gay couples would be eligible for spousal, survivor, and other benefits from the Social Security Administration (after being married for nine months.)
  4. Surviving spouses would be eligible for veteran’s benefits.
  5. In some states, spouses would be allowed to make medical decisions for their spouses in the absence of a medical power of attorney.