Same-sex couples should consult a lawyer after latest court decision

Same-sex couples rightsSame-sex couples should carefully review their legal situation in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The Supreme Court said that the federal law, which refused to recognize same-sex marriages with regard to federal taxes and benefits, was unconstitutional.

The ruling affects more than a thousand federal laws and regulations, ranging from Social Security to veterans’ benefits to income and estate taxes, employment benefits and immigration.

Same-sex couples who were married in a state that recognizes same-sex weddings can now file income taxes jointly, and might be able to amend past returns and collect a large refund.

Estate plans should be reviewed as well. Previously, estate planning was difficult for same-sex couples because they couldn’t take advantage of techniques that were available to other married couples. But now, under federal law, same-sex married couples can make unlimited gifts to each other and can leave an unlimited amount of property to each other in a will without incurring any gift or estate tax.

There will be big changes for employment benefits, including family health insurance qualifications, flexible spending accounts, high-deductible health care plans and health savings accounts, 401(k) rules, pension plan annuities, and COBRA rights.

Same-sex divorced couples will also get new rights, including the ability to get a court order authorizing payments from the other spouse’s retirement plan.

Older couples will want to review their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid planning.

There are many complexities in the wake of the ruling. For instance, it’s not completely clear whether the Supreme Court’s decision is retroactive, or what the effect will be on couples who have a valid marriage in one state but currently live in another state that doesn’t recognize that marriage. But every same-sex couple should know that their legal situation has changed dramatically, and they should review their rights and opportunities.