LGBT Estate Planning

Maryland Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
& Transgender Estate Planning

500 E Pratt St, Suite 900, Baltimore, MD 21202-3133 • 410.332.8626 •

Who Gets the Sofa?

By   |  

Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. A close third would be family squabbles over who gets the personal property when someone dies.

Even a well thought-out estate plan may leave room for disagreements. For example, if Mom leaves everything to her children “in equal shares,” assets like investment accounts and real estate can simply be liquidated and divided up. But when it comes to household items like photos and family heirlooms, each item is unique—and sometimes holds deep sentimental value.

What’s the value of the old sofa where Dad used to read to the kids versus the cake plate Mom used to pull out for each child’s birthday? These can be difficult questions to grapple with, especially in the emotionally fraught time after a profound loss.

With a little extra planning, however, you can help head off a family row over who gets what.

Getting advice from a lawyer about whether to get married is a little like getting advice from a poet about whether to buy a dishwasher. He might give you an interesting take on the matter, but when it comes to what’s really important about the decision, he is pretty much useless.

Now that marriage is available to same-sex couples all across America, many are asking whether the legal benefits make getting married a smart move. In many cases, these couples have been together for years or even decades. Factors like compatibility, shared goals, and a sense of commitment are already well established. With those out of the way, shouldn’t legal concerns be the primary factor in deciding whether to tie the knot?

Winston Churchill once said, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” When the worry is about what will happen when you die, the best thought may be to call an estate-planning attorney. Having a current Last Will and Testament can turn worry into confidence that all will be well when you are gone.

But will it?

It’s tempting to think that a will is all you need in order to be ready for your inevitable departure from this earth. After all, a will says who will inherit your assets, who will settle your estate, and who will look after your children and pets. What else could there be to worry about?

As it happens, plenty.

At this time of year, as W-2s, 1099s, and other tax forms start to arrive in the mail, many same-sex partners are facing a new obligation—filing their income taxes as a married couple. Preparing taxes has never been fun, but the law now makes it easier than ever for gay and lesbian couples who are legally married.

Back when same-sex marriage laws varied from state to state, and the federal government did not recognize gay unions at all, filing as a married couple was an ordeal. Couples who lived in states that recognized their unions might have had to prepare four tax returns—a “phantom” joint federal tax return that was never filed but that had to be prepared in order to determine the couple’s state taxes, a joint state return, and two individual returns with the federal government, which restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

What a difference a Supreme Court ruling makes.