There are numerous federal government benefits that legally married same-sex couples have traditionally been unable to enjoy. Even though a number of states sanction same-sex marriages, the federal government has not recognized them.
This is because of provisions contained within the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
One of the benefits that has not been extended to same-sex spouses is the unlimited marital estate tax deduction. If you are legally married in the eyes of the federal government you can transfer any amount of money to your spouse without incurring any estate tax liability.
Back in 2009 a New York woman named Thea Spyer passed away and left her spouse, Edith Windsor, a significant sum of money. The two women had married in 2007 in Canada after being together for decades.
The Internal Revenue Service imposed the estate tax.
Edith Windsor took legal action, challenging the constitutionality of the portion of DOMA that strictly defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. She cited the equal protection clause in the Constitution.
The Supreme Court sided with Edith Windsor's contention by a 5 to 4 vote.
As a result the matter of whether or not gay marriages are legal will be left up to each individual state to decide. The federal government will indeed start to recognize these marriages, and benefits like the unlimited marital deduction will be available to legally married same-sex spouses.
If you have questions about how this ruling may impact your existing estate plan contact our firm to schedule a free consultation.