“The smartest couples will brief themselves, and consult with a lawyer and a tax professional, about how their marriage would be treated at what we call the Three Big Ds – death, disability or divorce. And they will understand that there are issues that are unique to each marriage.
After decades of pent-up demand for the freedom to marry, some in the LGBT community were so thrilled to finally have nationwide marriage equality in 2015 that they jumped to tie the knot. They did so without understanding the full consequences of marriage. Now too many of them are sitting in lawyers’ offices, trying to unravel their mistakes. Let the LGBT community and its understandable impetuousness stand as cautionary tale for gay and heterosexual couples alike.
Everything always seems rosy when a couple is headed to the altar. No one wants to imagine, in that breathless moment, that many things could go wrong later. But ignoring the possibility of minefields ahead does not make those minefields disappear. The smartest couples will brief themselves, and consult with a lawyer and a tax professional, about how their marriage would be treated at what we call the Three Big Ds – death, disability or divorce. And they will understand that there are issues that are unique to each marriage.
Some Things to Consider Before You Walk Down the Aisle
- What are the income tax consequences of your marriage?
- If you break up, what do you want to happen to your kids, your assets and your property?
- If you pass away, what do you want regarding your kids, your assets and your property?
- Does your potential spouse have debt? Can a creditor come after you for your spouse’s debts?
- What if you have children from a prior relationship? How can you protect them?
- Will you co-parent children? What legal relationship will you have with the children? Are you committing through your actions to child support?
What if you inherit during your marriage? Is that inheritance shared between you?
Remember: Just because we can get married, does not mean we should. Some choose not to approach the altar at all because there are potentially negative legal ramifications.
All couples should take steps to protect each other and themselves. Married couples still need an estate plan. In fact, everyone, gay or straight, single or coupled, married or unmarried, needs an estate plan. Some believe they don’t have enough assets to be considered “an estate.” They are mistaken. An estate simply may be your modest bank account and your personal property, including your car, jewelry, household items, clothing, and pets.
If you are coupled and decide not to marry, estate planning is of even greater importance. Without the rights inherent to marriage, you will not have automatic inheritance rights or have the presumptive ability to make medical decisions in the event your partner cannot communicate, among other benefits. These rights are part of the reason the gay community fought for the freedom to marry. Now they’re learning to look before they leap – as everyone should do. Elizabeth Schwartz