Late Friday evening New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that had just been passed by the state Senate giving same-sex couples the right to marry in New York. The signature was the culmination of an intense week of politicking at the statehouse which drew national attention. Passage of the measure will have important consequences for the lives of same-sex couples in our area, not least of which include effects on those individuals' New York estate plans.
New York became the sixth state to allow these unions and in doing so provided same-sex partners with a variety of financial benefits and legal rights. Before having the option to marry, many gay couples conducted unique planning in order to protect their assets, provide for their loved ones, and plan for their futures. With passage of the gay marriage law, those couples may rightly wish to reevaluate to understand how marriage rights will affect their previous New York estate planning efforts.
This weekend the New York Times blog discussed the way that the measure will alter the financial lives of gay couples who decide to marry. For example, those with large estates may now benefit from the unlimited amount of assets that New York allows their spouse to transfer at death. Previously, those individuals were subject to an estate tax on all gifts over $1 million. The federal tax will not be affected.
Also, couples may now file joint state income tax returns. Depending on the income level of those individuals, this may either increase or decrease the couple's overall state tax burden. However, spouses in gay marriages must still file individual federal tax returns.
Partners who had previously taken advantage of domestic partnership insurance will no longer be required to pay state taxes on those benefits (they will still owe taxes at the federal level). New York state employees will now be able to treat their spouses like their heterosexual counterparts, making them eligible for health insurance, pension survivor benefits, and other rights. In addition, same-sex spouses now have access to workers' compensation benefits and the ability to bring wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their partner.
Complications will still exist for many same-sex married couples, because the federal government has yet to recognize these unions. The discrepancy means that couples are treated differently for income tax purposes, estate tax exemptions, and similar issues. Thus visiting a New York estate planning lawyer remains a prudent option for these families to ensure that their affairs will be protected and wishes carried out.
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