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Same-Sex Marriage Changes Finances

Juliette Fairley

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—When the Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the same rights to federal benefits as heterosexual couples this past week, they were suddenly enabled to reduce or eliminate estate taxes.

In addition, married same-sex couples are now eligible for Social Security spousal benefits equal to half of a worker's retirement benefit as well as in the event of death.

"Same-sex couples can now create estate plans that are designed to reduce estate taxes but there are traps," said Robert F. Klueger, a noted estate planning attorney. "If a couple is married, one same-sex spouse may become liable for the debts of the other."

When asset protection is the paramount objective, a same-sex couple should consider entering into a prenuptial agreement that removes them from community property.

"As in most contexts, planning works better if it is done earlier rather than later," said Klueger.

Author Steve Siebold predicts that within the next ten years, marriage equality will be legal in all 50 states with nearly 20% planning to be wed in the next one to three years, according to a 2013 TheKnot.com & The Advocate Same-Sex Wedding Survey by Here Media/MRI.

"That's a huge increase from even a year ago and one that opens up an array of new opportunities," said Stephen Murray, Here Media's senior vice president for marketing and brand strategy.

The report found that 45% of those who took the survey are getting married in a state where civil unions or domestic partnerships are legally recognized while 40% will do so in a state where they are not recognized.

"We could not be more excited that 12 states and Washington, D.C. are finally allowing same-sex couples the right to marry, declare their love for one another and plan those weddings," said Rebecca Dolgin, The Knot's editor in chief. "We're excited to be at the forefront by being the first to provide this level of detail and information on how same-sex couples plan and how their weddings compare with those of straight couples."

But same-sex couples still face many challenges when planning their weddings.

Some 20% said that the paperwork and legal issues regarding their marriages being recognized was their biggest challenge. Another 20% were surprised by how stressful all the planning details could be.

"What many people fail to recognize is that in the eyes of the law, marriage is a business contract that is nothing more and nothing less," said David T. Pisarra, a family law attorney in Los Angeles. "Love, procreation and religion are not prerequisites to getting married and don't influence the legalities of the contract."

The survey found that same-sex couples handle bridal planning in at least five different ways:

--Written by Juliette Fairley

  • 1. Same-sex couples are more likely to evenly split wedding planning responsibilities with 55% dividing the planning evenly compared with just 19% of their straight counterparts.
  • 2. About 86% same sex couples paid for the wedding themselves compared with just 40% of straight couples.
  • 3. Same-sex weddings are more likely to be casual and less traditional with 40% calling their wedding style casual compared with 16% of straight couples.
  • 4. While about 48% of same-sex couples have a bridal party, they are less likely to do so than their straight counterparts, of which 87% had a bridal party.
  • 5. About 25% of straight couples had a bachelor or bachelorette party compared with just 8% of same-sex couples having a shower and 13% having a bachelor or bachelorette party.

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