A major issue related to divorce of same sex couples – Defeat of DOMA doesn’t solve every problem

Although DOMA has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, there is a major issue related to the divorce of same sex couples.

This issue is exemplified by the plight of Adam Cardinal, a gay man.  More than four years ago, Mr. Cardinal married his love, who happened to be of the same sex.  They were married in New Hampshire where same sex marriages are legal.

The couple subsequently moved to Florida, where their marriage is not considered legal and it is in Florida where the problem arose.

Several months ago, they separated and wanted a divorce.  However, since their marriage was not recognized in Florida, they could not obtain a divorce there.

The other option, returning to New Hampshire where they were married, was not feasible.  Although you just need a short visit to marry in New Hampshire, that state requires at least a one year residency before it will grant a divorce.  Since the former couple did not have the flexibility to pick up their lives and move back to New Hampshire, they are stuck.

They cannot divorce or remarry.  They are in limbo.  If one of them dies in a state where same sex marriage is legal, and he does not have a will, their still legal spouse may inherit everything.  Even though Mr. Cardinal and his spouse did not merge their funds, the lack of legal paperwork signifying the end of their marriage may cause financial issues in the future.

Six of the states that recognize same sex marriage, including Delaware and Vermont, allow nonresident couples who married in the state to divorce under some circumstances, but those circumstances are not clear cut.

DOMA was just recently overturned and a lot of details about the related wide ranging issues remain to be addressed.  States have a lot of work ahead of them as they figure out how to handle all of the specific issues related to same sex marriage and divorce.

To learn more about estate planning and other issues related to end of life issues, go to www.diesmart.com.

Celebrity grave sites – unique stops for tourists

Time Magazine recently published a list of the “Top 10 Celebrity Grave Sites”.  They are very popular places for tourists to visit.  In fact, people from all over the world visit them every year.  Half of the list belongs to popular musicians; the rest belongs to movie stars, an author and a member of the British royal family.  Many of these celebrities died prematurely and their deaths were surrounded by mystique which persists to this day.

The most popular site is that of Princess Diana, whose burial site is on the Spencer family estate, Althorp, in North Hampshire, England.  During the summer, tourists can visit a shrine on the grounds but not her actual resting place.

The grave of Bruce Lee is ranked #2.  His grave in Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery still draws visitors from all over the world, including a trio of Mongolians who trekked 3,700 miles to pay their respects on the 53rd anniversary of his birth; the trip reportedly took seven months and wore out five pairs of boots. He remains the greatest Kung Fu teacher ever and a box-office smash.

#3 is the resting place of Marilyn Monroe.  She is buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, the burial site of many Hollywood celebrities.  She was the iconic female sex-symbol of the ’60s and has lasted as a sex-symbol to this day.  According to Limousine driver Benny Hill, who offers tours of celebrity graves, her crypt is not only the most frequently visited at the cemetery, but the most discolored from constant fondling. According to Hill, it’s “the dirtiest one there. You look at the wall and there is lipstick, fingerprints, handprints.”

According to Time Magazine, the 4th most popular grave site is that of Elvis Presley.  He died of a prescription drug overdose and was first buried in a mausoleum in Forest Hills Cemetery in Memphis, TN.  However, vandalism was a major problem; some thieves even tried to steal his body.  So his grave was moved to Graceland, his former home.  Admission to Elvis’ grave is part of the Graceland tour.  Although he’s been dead since 1977, 600,000 people still visit his grave-site every year.

Jim Morrison takes the 5th place.  This musician is buried at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  Although other famous musicians and writers are buried there, Morrison’s plot is the most visited site there.  Although there are conflicting reports about the cause of his death, people agree that his grave site is one of the most disrespected celebrity sites in the world.  His grave has been the site of drug parties and his marker has been defaced with graffiti.

In 6th place is the grave of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer.  In 1991 the government of Jamaica declared his birthday as a national holiday.  Since then, thousands of fans have held an annual music festival near his grave – a mausoleum that was built a few feet from his childhood home in the village of Nine Miles, Jamaica.

The Irish writer, James Joyce, is next in 7th place.  Surprisingly, he is not buried in Ireland.  In 1902, he left Ireland because of political turmoil and died after undergoing ulcer surgery in Switzerland.  After his death, he was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich.  His wife tried to move Joyce’s body to Ireland but the Irish government denied her request.

Frank Sinatra, who was buried in Desert Memorial Park near Palm Springs, CA with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Camel cigarettes, is in 8th place.

In 9th place is John Belushi.  He died of a drug overdose in 1982 and the public attention his grave-site on Martha’s Vineyard got was unmanageable.  His tombstone got trashed and fans continually littered the area around his grave.  His widow then moved his remains to another site in the same graveyard, away from the tombstone.  However, rumors also persist that his remains are now buried in Illinois with his family.

The last celebrity in Time Magazine’s list is country music singer and composer, Johnny Cash.  He died in 2003 and is buried next to his wife, June Carter, in a cemetery in Hendersonville, TN.  The site draws many people, who travel to the site to pay their respects.  Some of them leave guitar picks and money behind.

Some other famous writers whose grave-sites are frequently visited are:

  • Oscar Wilde, who is buried in Pere Lachise in Paris, died more than 100 years ago and yet people still visit his grave.
  • Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens), was born 175 years ago.  Yet 2,000 to 3,000 people per year visit his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY.
  • William Shakespeare lived from 1564  to 1616; today, thousands of people visit his tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England at the Holy Trinity Churchyard.

For more information about funerals and burial options, go to www.diesmart.com.

Unclaimed property – Are you a beneficiary but you don’t know it?

Over the last five years or so, a study has been conducted to determine how insurance companies ensured that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died.

The study was initiated by California Comptroller John Chiang, who used a Connecticut auditing firm to examine the payment practices of 21 life insurance companies nationwide.  The Controller’s investigation “has revealed an industry-wide practice of companies both failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies and ignoring their legal duty to turn the money over to the State for safe keeping.  Instead, companies would draw-down the policies’ cash reserves in order to continue collecting premium payments from the deceased.  Once the cash reserves were depleted, the company would cancel the policy.  Past audits also found that insurers did not routinely cross-check the owners of dormant accounts with government databases listing the deceased.  In other cases, companies had direct knowledge of the policy owner’s death, but still did not notify the beneficiaries.”

When questionable practices were uncovered, lawsuits ensued.  The premise of one of the latest was that insurers used the Social Security Death Master File to determine whether  those insured who had living benefit riders to annuities had died and, if so, they acted promptly to stop payments.  However, the Death Master File and other means weren’t used as often to ensure that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were promptly notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died, and the funds from that policy paid out.

In the case of one recent lawsuit, the lead plaintiff claimed that he was notified only in 2010, four years after the death of the insured, and then only by the state of Illinois Treasurer’s Office…not by the insurance company.  He received only a small sum, and it wasn’t until June 2012 that a larger sum was paid, without a good explanation.

Earlier this month (June 2013), Mr. Chiang reached a settlement on behalf of the state of California and its residents with 11 insurance companies who had been found to have underpaid life insurance benefits.  The agreements he reached required the 11 companies to do the following:

  • Restore the full value of all impacted accounts dating back to 1995;
  • Fully comply with California’s unclaimed property laws and cooperate with the Controller’s efforts to reunite these death benefits, annuity contracts and retained asset accounts with their owners or, in many cases, the owners’ heirs;
  • Pay the policy beneficiaries 3% compounded interest on the value of the held amounts from 1995, or from the date of the owner’s death, whichever is later.

If the benefits are not paid to the heirs within a specified period of time, the law requires businesses to send the list of abandoned property to the state.  In California, the period of time is three years; it varies by state.  In many states, this has become a large source of revenue.  However, the states’ first goal is to return the money to its rightful owners.

Many other states have followed California’s lead, filed suits against the major insurance companies, and will also benefit from California’s settlement with those 11 companies.

To learn more about beneficiaries and estate related topics, go to www.diesmart.com.

 

 

Defeat of DOMA – More federal benefits for same sex married couples

One of the many changes that that will affect gay and lesbian married couples is in the area of income taxes.

A February report by the Williams Institute,  a UCLA law school think tank that studies sexual orientation and gender identity law, found that “most married lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers pay more in income taxes than they would if allowed to file as ‘married, filing jointly’, especially for spouses with very different incomes.  For example, a working parent with taxable income of $60,000 a year and a stay-at-home spouse with no income would pay $2,900 more as individuals than as a couple. ”

The report goes on to say that “until now, working LGBT parents couldn’t establish legal ties to their spouses’ children, so generally were not able to claim child-related exemptions, deductions and credits.”  In this new post DOMA world, they will probably be able to establish legal ties and claim the tax benefits.

Another area in which they may benefit is that of Social Security.  When the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse most likely will be able to collect the deceased spouse’s Social Security if the amount is higher than theirs.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, estate tax is a third area in which these couples should see a major benefit.  In the past, when one person died, the other partner had to pay taxes on any inherited assets.  Now, as a legally married couple, when one spouse dies, all their assets could go to the surviving spouse without any tax penalty being imposed .

Finally, legally married gay couples should review any tax returns they filed since their weddings.  They may be eligible to amend their returns to file jointly and take other deductions that were not previously available to them.

There are more than 1,000 federal statutes related to benefits that, until now, were only available to married couples consisting of a man and a woman.  They will now be available to same sex married couples as well.

For more information about estate planning and other issues related to getting your affairs in order, go to http://www.diesmart.com.

 

Defeat of DOMA has major estate tax implications

The Supreme Court today made a decision to strike down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act); this will dramatically expand the access of married gay couples to many federal benefits related to tax, health and pension that have been denied to them until now.  This decision affects same sex couples in the 12 states and the District of Columbia which allow gay marriage; these couples represent about 18% of the U.S. population.  With the addition of California, the percentage will shoot up to 30%.be even higher.

DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and prevented the government from granting marriage benefits in more than 1,000 federal statutes to same-sex married couples in the states that allowed gay marriage.

One very important benefit of today’s Supreme Court decision is related to estate taxes.  Until now, same sex married couples could not benefit from married couple estate tax laws.  Now they will have the same benefits as all other married couples.

According to Yahoo News,  ” Eighty-three-year-old New Yorker Edith Windsor brought the DOMA suit after she was made to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes when her same-sex spouse died. If the federal government had recognized her marriage of more than four decades, Windsor would not have owed the sum. ”

With the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA with a 5-4 vote, Windsor will finally be eligible for a tax refund, plus interest.

For more information about estate taxes and settling an estate, go to www.diesmart.com.