Same-sex spouse inherits after Defense of Marriage Act falls

There are likely mixed emotions in El Paso about the Supreme Court of the United States’s decision earlier this summer to strike down a clause in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Regardless of how you feel about it, it has had a serious impact in the field of estate planning and estate litigation. Today’s story is just one such example of the changes that may be coming to Texas.

After a same-sex couple married in Canada in 2006, they returned to the United States, but one of the spouses learned that she had cancer. Four years later in 2010, the woman died, starting a long battle for her law firm’s profit-sharing plan. The woman’s wife and her parents both claimed the $49,000, but a judge eventually ruled that the money belonged to the woman’s wife after part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down.

While this story did not happen in Texas, employee benefits that fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (as this woman’s did) are governed by federal law. This means that same-sex spouses in Texas that were married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage will be the automatic beneficiaries of these kinds of benefits. Granted, any benefits controlled by state law will continue to operate under the premise that same-sex spouses are not married.

The judge deciding the case cited the Supreme Court case that ultimately brought down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that it was clear the women were married in the eyes of the federal government.

Source:Philadelphia Post-Inquirer, “Judge awards late lawyer’s benefits to lesbian spouse,” Joseph A. Slobodzian, July 31, 2013