Estate Planning Opportunities Arising from Recent Landmark Supreme Court Decisions Concerning Marriages of Same-Sex Couples


On June 26, 2013, the US Supreme Court (the “Supreme Court”) struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional in the case of United States v. Windsor (“Windsor”). In a related case, the Supreme Court also dismissed an appeal from the federal district court ruling that struck down California’s Proposition 8 (which overturned marriages of same sex couples in California) as unconstitutional in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry (“Perry”), leaving intact the district court’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. This advisory summarizes the estate and income tax planning opportunities and other topics for consideration arising from the Windsor and Perry decisions. Married same-sex couples should consult with their advisors in light of their particular facts and circumstances in order to take maximum advantage of the change in the law. Unmarried same-sex couples should now consider whether to marry.

In Windsor, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a same-sex couple, were married in Canada in 2007 after having been together in New York for over forty years. New York law did not permit marriages between same-sex couples at the time but recognized marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. Spyer died in 2009, and Windsor inherited all of Spyer’s estate as Spyer’s surviving spouse. However, because of DOMA, which defines “marriage” as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife”, the federal government refused to recognize the couple’s marriage for federal estate tax purposes. As a result, Windsor’s inheritance from Spyer was not entitled to the unlimited marital deduction from federal estate tax that would have been available had Windsor and Spyer’s marriage been recognized by the federal government. After paying the estate taxes owed on her inheritance as a result of DOMA, Windsor sued for a refund of the estate taxes on the grounds that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminated against same-sex married couples. Windsor prevailed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and also in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Supreme Court has now agreed with Windsor, holding that “DOMA seeks to injure the very class [of married same-sex couples] New York seeks to protect. By doing so it violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.” The Supreme Court further explained that DOMA’s “demonstrated purpose is to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”

Please see full advisory below for more information.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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