California has been no stranger to the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage and the courts continue to struggle to make sense of the situation. Some much-needed guidance on legal issues related to same-sex marriage may be on the horizon, as the United States Supreme Court convenes this month to decide which of five cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act it will hear in the coming year.
For same-sex couples, the high court's decision could have serious financial and estate planning repercussions. The cases the court may consider affect issues concerning taxation, health care and survivorship benefits for same-sex couples, all of which could end up costing, or saving, these couples thousands of dollars or more each year.
One of the cases comes from San Francisco, where a female federal court employee sued because she was denied health insurance benefits for her female spouse under DOMA. A dispute resolution officer for the court system agreed with the woman, and ruled that her partner should be afforded spousal benefits. The federal government, however, ordered the woman's insurer not to process the application for her partner. The woman sued and won a victory in federal district court which may now be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
In an important estate taxation case, a New York woman sued after she was forced to pay federal estate taxes on her inheritance from her lesbian spouse that she would not have had to pay had their marriage been between a male and female.
A third case involves several Massachusetts same-sex couples who were denied Social Security survivor benefits for their spouses, benefits an opposite-sex married couple would have no trouble procuring.
The Court will meet behind closed doors to determine whether to hear any, or all, of these cases in 2013. Those seeking more information on the current state of the law should contact an experienced estate planning attorney.