If Caitlyn Jenner would have gotten married before the June 26 Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell versus Hodges case that required all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she would likely have only been able to receive spousal benefits such as Social Security, and beneficiary perks such as 401 (k) benefits in 36 states.
“She could not have married a woman in several states prior to the ruling, but now the marriage is recognized,” says Karen Loewy, senior attorney with Lambda Legal. “We’ll see how it plays out on an individual level, but there’s no legal basis for any government official to raise questions about the validity of a marriage based on the individuals,” she adds.
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“What’s changed really is the impact of your planning from an estate tax perspective, as well as the rights and benefits,” said Catherine R. McCabe, senior managing director at TIAA-CREF.
BlackEnterprise.com spoke with McCabe and Colleen Carcone; wealth planning specialist at TIAA-CREF, about what the Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling means in terms of financial benefits for same-sex couples.
BlackEnterprise.com: When it comes to spousal benefits and rights, what are some of the most significant ways that the same-sex marriage ruling will impact couples?
Carcone: There are big differences with regard to estate planning. For example, if someone died prior to the ruling and they didn’t have a will, state laws would have dictated who gets to inherit their assets. If you were a same-sex couple living in a state that did not recognize your marriage, your spouse did not have the benefit of inheriting under state law. That’s all gone out the window with the national law.
McCabe: All couples should use this conversation as an opportunity to evaluate the estate planning they have in place. Very rarely will a state’s intestacy law get your assets to the person that you would have wanted them to go to in the event of your death. You might want to consider a will and a revocable trust. A will is a document that outlines how your assets are transferred after your death. The revocable trust dictates who gets what and when. It insures that your assets go to the right person in the way that you wanted.
The ruling also impacts how same-sex couples are treated when it comes to beneficiary designations. Can you elaborate?
All of us should make sure that our beneficiary designations on things like 401 (k)’s and insurance policies are going to the people we want them to go to. However, same-sex couples should know that in a case where a spouse is not designated, they are entitled to 50% of the benefit. The Supreme Court ruling leveled the playing field for them in this regard as well.