Jul 28, 2015

Domestic partners who marry can still achieve estate planning goals

If you are in a domestic partnership and have employer-sponsored health coverage or other employer-sponsored benefits for your partner, stay alert to the changing legal landscape. Many companies may phase out coverage for domestic partnerships. You may need to take steps - including marriage - in order to ensure your partner's continuing benefits.

Domestic partnership contracts can be useful for unmarried couples, both opposite-sex and same-sex, who wish to avail themselves of a partner's employer-sponsored benefits, such as health insurance. Many couples opt out of marriage and choose domestic partnerships for estate planning purposes: they want to protect the inheritance of children from a prior marriage. And of course, until June's Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples did not even have the option of marriage.

Two thirds of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, and of those, 62% also cover same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Many public employers also recognize domestic partnerships, including Palm Beach County and many states.  

Now, in light of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, some employers that in the past offered domestic partner benefits are re-thinking their policies. For example, Delta Airlines, Corning and Verizon have announced they will no longer provide domestic partnership benefits, and have given their employees a grace period in which to marry, or lose benefits. Companies that have traditionally extended domestic partner benefits only to same-sex couples are considering dropping domestic partner benefits altogether.

Every employer is different, so be sure to inquire about your company's current policy. If you wish to marry now but have concerns about the estate planning ramifications, meet with an experienced estate planning attorney. A prenuptial agreement in which your spouse waives his/her right to the elective share and marital home, as well as other strategies, can be explored, giving you the freedom to marry while still meeting your estate planning goals.

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