Many people within the estate planning community have been anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court decision on the question of whether or not the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages.
Why is this relevant to the field of estate planning? One of the reasons is actually at the core of the legal action that set this case in motion.
Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor got married in Canada in 2007 after being together for many years. Spyer died in 2009 and left her spouse an inheritance as you might imagine. It exceeded the amount of the estate tax exclusion, and the federal government imposed the estate tax.
There is an unlimited estate tax marital deduction in the United States. You can leave any amount of money to your spouse free of the estate tax. While you are alive you can transfer any amount of money to your spouse free of the gift tax.
Even though Spyer and Windsor had gotten married in a jurisdiction that allowed it the estate tax was still levied because of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as something that can only exist between a man and a woman.
Windsor questioned the constitutionality of this provision, and after a lower court found in her favor the matter made its way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has in fact found in favor of Windsor as well. Going forward each state will have the right to decide whether or not same-sex marriages will be sanctioned. Marriages that have been legally entered into in a given state will be recognized by the federal government.