BEYOND its psychological and political impacts, the
Financial advisers of such couples say their clients are looking especially into whether to amend old income tax returns, how to alter their estate plans and which partner should officially own their investments or vacation home, if not both. Retitled assets are seen as the most likely changes, although few couples have acted yet.
While the ruling in
''You have a whole range of new tax-reduction options that you didn't have before,'' said
The ruling means that legally married same-sex couples must be treated the same as heterosexual married couples under federal laws pertaining to income and estate taxes, pensions and the like.
But much remains unsettled or unclear regarding state residency. Gay couples are still subject to the state tax laws where they live, which may not grant the same legal and financial rights. This is particularly a problem for residents of the 27 states that have a state income, estate or inheritance tax and do not treat same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships or civil unions the same as heterosexual marriage for tax purposes, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a major lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group.
''We want to remind people that, as much as there's this great advance with federal recognition, we still have a patchwork of state laws,'' said
For long-term couples, an important question is whether to redo their last three years' federal income tax returns and file jointly rather than as individuals, as allowed under rules issued by the
The way the math works, experts say, joint filing is usually better for people with a big difference in incomes, but two people with similarly high incomes will probably hit steeper tax brackets faster when they pool their returns. A good number of same-sex couples would seem to fit that second definition, since women earn only about 80 percent of what men do, on average, creating an income imbalance in heterosexual couples. In contrast, two men or two women would be more likely to have similar earnings.
But financial advisers like
Other factors also affect the calculation. If a much wealthier person gave the partner an asset that was then sold, the second partner, filing as an individual, probably paid lower capital gains tax on the increased value than the couple refiling jointly would do now, suggested
On the other hand, if one spouse had been covered under the other's employer-sponsored health insurance, the employee had to pay tax on the ''imputed value'' of that coverage, so refiling could bring a refund.
The biggest risk is that once a couple has brought the old filings to the attention of the I.R.S., ''it is possible that those returns could be reviewed and audited,'' warned
Same-sex couples will also be able to reduce or even eliminate federal taxes on estates and gifts. Nonspouse beneficiaries pay tax on property above certain minimums, currently
''Now you don't have to create strategies and implement transactions that are complicated, to transfer assets to your spouse,'' said
Nevertheless, couples might want to think twice before transferring legal ownership of assets.
''If you have a spouse who has bad credit issues,''
Furthermore, when one spouse dies, an heir whose name is not included on a financial asset that has accumulated long-term value may actually pay lower capital gains taxes, when the asset is sold, than would an heir who co-owned the asset, according to
And if the happy new marriage breaks apart, it will be more complicated to unwind these retitled assets.
Adding a spouse's name to brokerage accounts and marketable securities is fairly straightforward, albeit with a lot of paperwork. ''Where you might get into issues is with alternative investments like hedge funds and private equity holdings,'' Ms. Slade said. Because each spouse needs at least
If the assets are kept separate, ''make sure your spouse is listed as the primary beneficiary,'' to avoid probate headaches, recommended
Ultimately, couples might even alter their investment strategies. True, these strategies are usually based on factors that marriage does not change, including age and risk tolerance. Still,
Whether all assets are listed in both names, they should be treated as a single portfolio in setting investment strategy, to ''make sure you're not overextended in one area,''
One place where same-sex couples now have less flexibility is with retirement plans like 401(k)'s. Federal pension law requires that the spouse be the primary beneficiary, so the employee cannot simply name someone else unless the spouse specifically waives the benefit.
''In some ways
PHOTO: CELEBRATION: Supporters of same-sex marriage after the
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