With same-sex marriage now legal across the country, we’ve been hearing a lot lately about the “benefits of marriage.” For most of us, these benefits are personal. We know that we are part of a team, that someone will be there for us in a crisis, and that Sunday afternoons need never be spent alone.
But marriage also confers hundreds of legal benefits, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges ensures that they now apply to gay and straight couples alike. Couples who tie the knot can avoid testifying against each other in court, can roll over a retirement account when one spouse dies, and enjoy preferential treatment from Social Security, Immigration, and the military.
One benefit that often goes overlooked, however, is the right to protect the family home from certain types of creditors. Titling the house as “tenants by the entirety” will prevent someone who successfully sues either spouse from seizing the property to pay off the judgment. In addition, if either spouse files for bankruptcy, the property will be beyond the reach of creditors.
When James Obergefell and John Arthur decided to get married, there was a palpable sense of urgency. John was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his prognosis wasn’t good. If they were going to exchange wedding bands before John died, they needed to act fast.
The year was 2013, and the U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages approved by the states. But their home state of Ohio had banned gay marriage almost a decade earlier. Despite the seriousness of John’s illness, they would have to travel to one of the few states where same-sex marriage was legal in order to get married.
They chose Maryland.
The traditional wedding service includes a prayer for the “gift and heritage of children.” Like many parts of the old ceremony, this lovely phrase may not apply to same-sex couples.
Just as we are unlikely to be “given away” by our parents or promise to “obey” our new spouse, we may exchange wedding bands with no thought of having children, whether by adoption, surrogacy, or other means. But for those of us who do have children, they are indeed a gift and heritage, and caring for them is nothing short of a sacred duty.
Organic baby food? Check. Piano lessons? Of course. Academic tutors, enriching vacations, and endless positive reinforcement? Check, check, and check.
As same-sex couples, we can perhaps be forgiven for parenting with such zeal. After all, for us acquiring children requires a level of determination that most straight couples have never contemplated. Our children mean so much to us, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine our lives without each other.
And yet we need to do just that.
Say the word legacy and what springs to mind? A stately home passed down through the generations? Or a trust fund that keeps a rich man’s descendants in gracious comfort? Or perhaps an endowment that promotes some noble cause?
Instead, think of the people you care about. What will you leave them? Your legacy might include the values you instilled in them, the memories you made together, or the worldly goods they inherit from you.
When it comes to the worldly goods, part of your legacy will be how much thought you put into planning your estate. Will it be a legacy of well-managed wealth and clear instructions or one of confusion and unkept promises? Regardless of the extent of your assets, having a well thought-out estate plan can save your loved ones time, money, and a lot of stress.