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What Impact Does Windsor Have in Florida?

It has been more than a year since the United States Supreme Court issued its momentous and far-reaching opinion in United States v. Windsor, striking down the federal government's ban on the recognition of same-sex marriages. For countless same-sex couples throughout the United States, the decision had a very real and very immediate impact on their everyday lives. However, many people still do not fully understand what the decision did and how the laws of their state of residence can limit the decision's effect upon them.

In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court invalidated a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages even if they were legally recognized in the state in which they took place. This meant that, prior to Windsor, a same-sex couple could be legally married but would still be treated as single in their dealings with the federal government. This effectively denied those couples a number of federal benefits:

  • No joint federal tax returns
  • No spousal exemption for federal estate tax
  • No immigration benefits accorded to spouses of citizens and permanent residents
  • No spousal benefits from Social Security or the Department of Veterans Affairs

Windsor changed that by forcing the federal government to recognize all marriages that were legal in the state in which they took place. However, that recognition is still contingent upon state law. For this reason, the impact of Windsor upon same-sex couples in Florida remains limited so long as Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples in Florida, especially those with high net worth, continue to face unique estate planning challenges. The fact that these couples still have no natural inheritance and agency rights with respect to each other makes comprehensive estate planning all the more important. Experienced Florida estate planning attorneys know the special issues same-sex couples face and can help them do what is necessary to provide each other security and peace of mind through estate and incapacity planning.

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