How to Avoid Being “Strangers Rather Than Spouses”

Over the past few years certain states have taken steps to legalize same-sex unions, with many same-sex couples joyously taking advantage of the new laws… but in spite of state approval, these newly married couples do not have the same rights as traditional married couples under federal law. This recent article from Elder Law Answers describes how one gay widow is suing the federal government for reimbursement of the estate tax bill she paid after her wife’s death.

“Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer became engaged in 1967 and were married in Canada in 2007, although they lived in New York City. Ordinarily, spouses can leave any amount of property to their spouses free of federal estate tax. But when Ms. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor, 81, had to pay Ms Spyer's estate tax bill because of the The Federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which denies federal recognition of gay marriages. ‘While New York State considered us married, the federal government did not, so the government taxed Thea's estate as though we were strangers rather than spouses.’"

This story illustrates again how important it is for any non-traditionally married couple to take their estate planning seriously. A properly drafted will, trust, power of attorney and health care directive can help ensure that you and your partner are treated as spouses rather than strangers.

Contact an attorney in your state to find out how estate planning documents can help you achieve your goals.