The recent United States Supreme Court decision in the case of United States v. Windsor effectively ends marriage discrimination on the federal level. It equals the playing field between legally married same sex couples and their traditional counterparts. This decision fully recognizes same sex marriages in the states where they are currently legal. It does not change existing state laws in the states where same sex couples are not legal, or in states where only civil unions are recognized.
This decision will change benefits, rights and responsibilities in over one thousand different areas. Some benefits will be universal, the vast majority will only take effect in states where same sex marriages are legal. Given the large number of programs involved, a wait and see approach is the only viable option now. Due to the uncertainty over the full impact of the Supreme Court decision, many are advising a wait and see approach to see how the programs involved are effected.
Currently, the State of New Jersey does not allow same sex marriage or honor the status of same sex couples who legally married in other states. There are rumblings of change on several fronts. Lawmakers are potentially reintroducing laws to allow same sex marriage, similar to those previously vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. Other lawmakers are looking at the option of a ballot measure to achieve the same result.
If you have previously established an estate plan to conform to what was existing federal law, you will be best served to let the dust settle. If you have no plan currently, make a plan that will work in today’s landscape. The ink is barely dry on the court’s decision and agencies are going to be under pressure to adapt. Given the volatility of the issue remaining in some circles and the absolute number of issues that must be resolved, this may not be a rapid process.
Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.