Because Pennsylvania defines marriage as between one man and one woman, there are challenges for same gender couples and other unmarried couples that must be considered when planning estates for either of these real-life situations.
Similarly, the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) which is a federal law, defines marriage as only a legal union between a man as husband and a woman as wife. DOMA permits states to deny marriage “type” relationships to same sex couples even though the relationship is recognized in other states. Not even the Constitution can protect a relationship which is legal in one state but not legal in another. A multitude of federal rights are afforded to opposite sex married couples that are denied to same sex couples, including estate and gift tax exclusions, social security benefits, benefits from certain immigration laws, access to federal civilian and veteran benefits, etc.
When considering financial issues, including estate planning, whether you are a same sex couple or an unmarried opposite sex couple, it is important to realize that your relationship does not have the legal impact of marriage in a variety of ways. Therefore, you may want to comingle your assets differently than a married couple.
For instance, utilize a joint checking account for mutual and shared bills, while maintaining separate checking accounts for individual or personal needs. Before purchasing a home, a car or even an investment property, figure out the best way to title the property so that you understand who gets the property if you or your partner die.
When deciding on your estate plan, consider preparing a Will. For same sex and unmarried couples, the intestacy laws will not protect the property interests of the surviving partner, so you have to put your wishes into writing if you wish for your partner to inherit.
Some of the issues that unmarried couples may want to approach in Estate planning include: