In recent months, courts have extended important elder rights to same-sex married couples.

Estate tax

Last summer’s landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor struck down a provision of federal law that excluded same-sex couples from the definitions of “marriage” and “spouse.”

Edith Windsor sued to obtain a refund of federal estate tax she had paid after the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer. Edith and Thea married in Canada in 2007, and their marriage was recognized by the state of New York, where they resided. Edith claimed she was entitled to a refund because of the exemption from federal estate tax available to surviving spouses, but the IRS denied the refund.

The Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for the law to exclude same-sex couples from the definition of “marriage.” “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” the Court held. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

As a result, Edith was entitled to an estate tax refund of $363,053.

Pension plan

Following the Windsor ruling, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled in favor of another same-sex surviving spouse who sought of the death benefits from her deceased wife’s pension plan.

Under the terms of pension plan, death benefits were payable to the surviving spouse unless she had signed a written waiver. Jean Tobits, who was considered the spouse of Sarah Farley under Illinois law where they lived, applied to receive Sarah’s pension plan death benefits after Sarah died from cancer in 2010.

The Pennsylvania-based law firm for whom Sarah worked also received a claim for death benefits from Sarah’s parents. The firm asked the court to resolve the competing claims.

Following the Windsor decision, the court held that Jean met the definition of a “spouse” under applicable federal law, since her marriage to Sarah was recognized as valid by the state where they lived. Since Jean had never signed a waiver, she was entitled by law to receive the death benefits of Sarah’s pension plan. (Cozen O’Connor, P.C. v. Tobits, et al.)

Pennsylvania status

Pennsylvania now recognizes same-sex marriages, under the 2014 case of Whitewood v. Wolf. Among other benefits, this change in the law affords more favorable treatment to same-sex couples for purposes of inheritance tax and real estate transfer tax. For more information on this issue, click here.


Do You Need Help with
Estate Administration?

Call

412-531-7123

Contact Us Online

Related Posts

The #1 Problem in Powers of Attorney

The #1 Problem in Powers of Attorney

In the many powers of attorney I see in my line of work, one problem recurs over and over again. And it’s costing families tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in asset protection. The number one problem is inadequate gifting provisions. If...

Who has capacity to make a will?

Who has capacity to make a will?

Fundamental to the validity of any last will and testament is that the testator (person whose will it is, and who is signing the documents) had capacity at the time of execution. By statute, a testator in Pennsylvania must be “of sound mind” to make a will. (20 Pa....

Share This