In what President Obama described as a thunderbolt of a message, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the U.S. Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry.
The ruling extends marriage rights to gay couples in the 14 remaining states where same-sex marriage was previously prohibited. It also validates lower-court rulings in 20 states where marriage bans were struck down by federal judges. As a result of this landmark decision, many same-sex couples are likely to get married, and that means they'll need to consider some financial planning implications.
Filing federal and state tax returns. After the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act two years ago, same-sex couples were allowed to file jointly for federal tax purposes. But some were forced to file separately if they lived in a state that didn't recognize their marriage. Now no married same-sex couples will need to do this, and they can file jointly for state tax returns as they do for their federal returns.
Clarity about Social Security spousal benefits. Before this ruling, Social Security benefits for same-sex spouses were up in the air. To ensure a survivor would qualify for benefits after their spouse dies, they would need to live in a state that recognized their marriage before they filed for benefits. Now, regardless of where same-sex couples live, the spousal benefits will be recognized without having to relocate.
Federal and state estate tax planning. Federal and states estate tax rules should now be applied the same for all married couples. That means same-sex couple will no longer have to execute estate planning workarounds, such as moving assets from a nonrecognition state to a recognition state, using trusts and co-trustees in a recognition state.
Beneficiary designations and spousal consent. When same-sex couples get married, they face the same issues of any married couple, one of which is reviewing and updating beneficiaries of pensions and retirement plans. If a married person wants to designate a nonspouse as the primary beneficiary of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, they're required to obtain their spouse's written and notarized consent. This consent requirement dates back to 1974, when the Employee Retirement Income Security Act mandated your spouse to be designated as your primary beneficiary, unless he or she agreed to waive this right in writing.
The bottom line: All married couples will be treated equally under the law, and the financial planning decisions and strategies for same sex-couples will now mostly be the same as for any other couple.