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Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA – Equal Rights for Estate Planning

In a landmark 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Wednesday, allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the same federal benefits as married opposite-sex couples.

In Windsor v. U.S., the Justices ruled that DOMA, which passed by bipartisan majorities and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, is an unconstitutional violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the decision, stated that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”  While the court’s decision in this case will undoubtedly be hailed as a major civil liberties victory, it is an estate planning victory as well.

Edith Windsor, who was widowed when her wife Thea Spyer died in 2009. Windsor was forced to pay $363,053 in estate tax on Spyer’s estate because DOMA prevented her from being considered Spyer’s spouse for the purposes of federal taxes.

Thanks to this decision, married same-sex couples will now enjoy the same rights and privileges as opposite-sex married couples with regard to estate planning. This means that all married couples, regardless of sexual orientation, can consider estate and tax planning strategies that were previously only available to opposite-sex married couples.

This is a major step toward equality for married same-sex couples and for all Americans.

By Eric J. Einhart, Esq. – Guest Blogger

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