Estate Planning Attorney With Hook Law Center Explains Post-DOMA Rule Changes For Taxes, Veterans’ Benefits
Virginia Beach, VA (Law Firm Newswire) October 14, 2013 – Two recent announcements show U.S. government agencies will differ in how they implement a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In June, 2013, the Court struck down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to legally-married same-sex couples. As Virginia estate planning attorney Andrew Hook explained, that left those couples in a limbo between state and federal law.
“In the eyes of the states in which they married, and other states recognizing same-sex marriages, those couples were legally wed,” Hook said. “But according to the federal government, they were not, and therefore were not entitled to any federal benefits bestowed upon opposite-sex couples.”
Since the Supreme Court ruling invalidating that provision of DOMA, numerous U.S. government agencies have scrambled to figure out exactly how and to what extent to implement that change in law. Agencies have recently begun issuing guidance – the Social Security Administration was one of the first to do so, announcing in August, 2013, that it was actively processing spousal claims for retirement benefits for same-sex couples.
A pair of more recent announcements illustrate a divide in how the rule changes will affect same-sex couples with respect to various federal benefits.
On August 29, 2013, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced that for all federal tax purposes, same-sex married couples would be recognized as legally married by the U.S. government. Importantly, that benefit is extended to those couples regardless of their current residence. Therefore, a same-sex couple who wed in Massachusetts, for example, but relocate to Virginia, where their marriage is not recognized, will be permitted to file joint federal tax returns, and will be required to declare themselves “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.”
Next, on September 4, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a letter to Congress that some married same-sex couples would be eligible for veterans’ benefits. Unlike the tax benefits, this announcement applies only to those couples currently residing in states where their marriages are recognized. The rules governing veterans’ benefits are written into laws passed by Congress. Expanding the benefits to cover same-sex couples nationwide would likely require Congressional action or additional judicial action.
“In some respects, the picture is a little clearer for these couples, but in others, it is only more muddy,” Hook added. “I recommend that anyone who is unsure of their federal benefits speak to a qualified veterans and estate planning attorney.”