Family & Relationships

Lessons We Can All Learn from the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

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The U.S Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality made it possible for same-sex couples to marry in all states. While the right to marry has been the focus, that one right affects over 1,130 federal statutory provisions in which marital status determines what benefits, rights and privileges you may receive.

If you are in a same-sex relationship, the ruling brings up many questions you may want to be aware of so you can fully understand what rights and privileges you now have. For example:

  • How will your state now recognize your relationship if it was previously recognized as a domestic partnership or civil union? Are you now considered married?
  • What is the effective date of your marriage if you were in a domestic partnership or civil union and now want to marry? Marriage dates are often used to determine whether someone is entitled to a spouse’s retirement, Social Security or disability benefits, among others.
  • Tax, real estate and estate law are just a few areas in which state laws can vary. How will same-sex couples take advantage of benefits in a state that formerly didn’t recognize the marriage?

Because marital status affects so many benefits and privileges, it’s important to understand your situation and what you may be entitled to. For instance, marital status affects how you file your taxes or how your estate is managed if you die without a will.

Whether you’re married, single, in a domestic partnership, civil union or living together, you can take control of your personal situation and protect what matters to you. Here are several things you can do to ensure you’re taking advantage of all opportunities that may be available to you.

Create a will and other estate planning documents.

While every state has “default laws” that distribute your property after death, the process will often take longer, cost more and create more stress for your family – and it doesn’t ensure your stuff goes where you’d want it to go.

Create health care directives.

Decide who’ll make health care decisions, including end-of-life care, if you’re unable to make those decisions yourself. Name who can access your medical records and health records so that person can make informed decisions.

Create personal care advance directives.

Whether you are temporarily in a coma after a car accident or permanently disabled, name who will have the right to make health care decisions for you.

Update and review beneficiaries.

These are the people who’ll receive insurance, annuity and retirement benefits. You name these people on the policy or contract and this designation always trumps what’s written in your will. It’s important to keep these updated, especially if you’ve gotten married, divorced or added children to your family.

Review how ownership is stated on bank accounts, securities and real estate.

While bank accounts and securities accounts can be passed to another in your will or trust, they can be set up so your intended recipients can receive access to funds if you die or become incapacitated. Real estate laws vary greatly by state. Check with an experienced attorney to understand what’s appropriate for your situation.

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