When the U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the same rights to marriage as opposite-sex couples in all 50 states, it put both types of unions on an equal footing, at least when it comes to financial issues. 

“As planners, we’re not going to be talking about opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage anymore; we’re just going to be talking about marriage,” said Bruce Hoffmeister, senior financial planner in the wealth advisory services division of Wilmington Trust. “It does make it less complicated for planners. There may be a lot of people out there waiting to get married, so it’s potentially a boon for planners.”

At the same time, not all issues surrounding marriage are financial. Advisors need to be aware that a social stigma against same-sex marriages remains in some parts of the nation, some of it institutionalized. This reality means that same-sex couples still confront pressing issues not faced by opposite-sex couples.

“Over half the states allow discrimination against LGBT people," Hoffmeister noted. "You can get married on Saturday and go into the office on Monday and get fired for getting married.” 

The Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges has broad ramifications, according to Hoffmeister. Same-sex married couples will no longer have to file separate state tax returns of different filing statuses from their federal tax returns. They will have a right to inherit property tax free and to receive certain property interests from a spouse upon death. In divorce, same-sex spouses will have certain property rights, making it easier to dissolve a relationship than when it was simply a same-sex relationship without the benefit of marriage.

Marriage will also give same-sex couples legal access to stepparent adoption, joint adoption, medical decision-making authority and spousal family leave. And a spouse in a same-sex marriage who is not a U.S. citizen will be afforded the same rights as one in an opposite-sex marriage.

Hoffmeister pointed out that just as with opposite-sex couples, some same-sex couples may choose to remain in a partnership rather than marry. “What are now the negative aspects of marriage are considerations that both couples have to look at,” he said. The marriage income-tax penalty can apply, and certain benefits that come into play based on level of assets could be negatively affected. As well, some pensions may go away if a person remarries.

In addition, if one partner has bad credit, the other partner would effectively take that on in marriage, and possibly the debt associated with it. That could affect the couple’s ability to buy a house, for example.

“This is still new to most of the country, and there are still financial reasons as to why you should or shouldn’t get married,” Hoffmeister said. Which suggests that same-sex couples, whether legally married or not, need financial advice.

A recent survey by Wells Fargo of 1,152 LGBT Americans, ages 25 to 75, put this need for education and advice in stark terms. Although 89 percent of respondents said evaluating the financial implications of getting married was important before doing so, only 32 percent understood those implications. Three-quarters were unaware how marriage affected access and rights to workplace pension benefits or their rights to inherit money from a spouse. And less than a third of couples had discussed basic issues, such as whether to merge accounts and assets or how much they wanted to save or invest, before getting married.

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