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How will DOMA ruling affect same-sex estate planning in Georgia?

The most recent U.S. Supreme Court term included several important cases, but the two cases dealing with same-sex marriage certainly received the most attention. Currently, Georgia state law doesn’t recognize marriage for same-sex couples — and the recent rulings did not change that. However, now that a major component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, many couples are dealing with complex differences between federal and state law. These laws, of course, impact estate planning.

When a person passes away, there are a number of estate planning considerations to make. If one half of a married couple passes away without a will in place, their spouse will likely be the primary beneficiary. However, when the state doesn’t recognize a couple’s marriage — even if they’re legally married in another state — the same isn’t necessarily true.

A poignant example of this is one same-sex couple that primarily lives in Utah, but they also are married and life part-time in Washington, where their marriage recognized. This certainly creates a complex legal situation. This is a situation many couples in Georgia might find themselves in. So, what do they do?

Since the ruling are still fresh, the federal government is sorting through the implications of the change in law. For example, officials will have to determine what will be done about federal estate taxes. Same-sex couples will have to handle state tax issues no differently than they do now, but they could be rolled into the federal estate tax benefit for spouses if they are married in another state.

No matter how things shake out at the federal level, estate planning will still be a complex balance for same-sex couples in Georgia. As such, it may be beneficial to work with an experienced attorney who can make sure estates are in order and reflect the current state of the law.

Source: The New York Times, “After Rulings, Same-Sex Couples Grapple With Diverging State Laws,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg, June 28, 2013