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The Supreme Court recently weighed in on several cases of significant importance to same-sex couples. In the short-term, the case with perhaps the most immediate impact for same-sex partners in Illinois may be the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act. In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court required the federal government to provide same-sex couples with state-recognized marriages the same federal benefits couples in opposite-sex marriages enjoy.

The ruling will have a big change in three areas: estate taxes, social security benefits and veterans’ benefits. Prior to Windsor, many surviving same-sex partners had to pay an estate tax, even though similarly situated survivors of opposite-sex marriages received an exemption.

Likewise, during DOMA, same-sex partners could not access key Social Security marital benefits, such as the spousal benefit (allowing a spouse to receive 50 percent of their partner’s benefits, if the sum exceeds their own), the survivor benefit (allowing a surviving spouse to receive their deceased partner’s benefits instead, if the partner’s benefits are higher) and the death benefit (a one-time payment to help pay funeral expenses). Taken together, these benefits can make a huge financial difference. Further, prior to DOMA, same-sex partners were denied benefits and pensions as to veterans’ benefits, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” notwithstanding.

Windsor opens the door to greater benefits, but only for states that recognize same-sex marriage. Until then, Illinois same-sex couples need to take extra care in planning their estates, such as drafting a power of attorney, a life partnership agreement, property planning documents as well as wills and trusts.

Source: Center for American Progress, “DOMA’s Impact on LGBT Older Americans,” Andrew Cray & Sunny Frothingham, July 1, 2013.