Whether couples are living in states that recognize same-sex marriage or not, they should consider the need for estate planning at any point in their lives. Even same-sex couples who are not married may want to consider plans for the future and how estate administration issues can be lessened by proper planning.
For same-sex couples, there are two major issues that could impact the need for estate planning. First, couples who are legally married in certain states may move into states that don't recognize same-sex marriage. Although federal laws on government estate taxes would recognize the union, state laws governing property ownership and other matters could come into play. In such instances, married same-sex partners may not be afforded the same protection other married couples are, making it essential to document ownership of property and how assets are to be handled during probate.
For same-sex couples who are not married, estate issues are very similar from other unmarried couples. Couples may decide to live together, accruing property and other assets, for many years without being married. However, if one of those individuals dies, the other partner is not protected in some states the same as a spouse is. The assumption that the other partner owns half of the assets may not be made, which means partners could be forced to work through complex probate issues at a time when they are grieving.
Same-sex couples, whether unmarried or married, can address gaps in estate law through thorough planning. It's never too early to plan for the end of life, and talking now with your significant other about legal options can help ensure both individuals are protected for the future.
Source: The Edwardsville Intelligencer, "Estate planning for LGBT couples," June 25, 2014