Sara Whitman

Tax Time Deliberation: Married or Not?

Filed By Sara Whitman | April 08, 2008 3:55 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: HRC, inheritances, LGBT couples, life insurance, money, personal finances, tax

As married, heterosexual couples across America pull out their tax forms in the last minute rush to file by April 14th at seconds before midnight, same-sex couples are slapped in the face one more time with their second-class citizenship.

No one enjoys tax time in this country. We have a long, complicated and intricate tax code that requires a degree to fully understand. What form do you use? Which box do you check? What are legal deductions and can you count the gift to your mailman as a charitable contribution?

"Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes," Benjamin Franklin famously said.

For same-sex couples, however, there is an additional layer not only of confusion but also of denied rights. Are we married or aren't we? I live in Massachusetts. I'm married but only in this state. I must file separately to the federal government. On the federal form, do we divide the dependants between us? Do I get two of the kids and my wife one? Or does it make sense for her to claim all three? Who gets the mortgage interest deduction?

It was easy for Franklin to be so certain. He wasn't a gay man married in Massachusetts in the last four years.

HRC has launched a campaign, "7 Days to A Better Financial You," to highlight the "significant financial burdens and legal hurdles" for same-sex couples and their families. Our social security benefits are not transferable. Life insurance must be carefully designed. Inheritance of any kind is out of the question without a significant tax burden.

The list goes on and on. Same-sex couples are urged to get sound tax and legal advice. Julie Goodridge, of NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. a firm that balances clients' social and political concerns with their financial objectives, advises her same-sex clients to be prepared on as many levels as possible. "Gay and Lesbian couples need elaborate documentation around their relationships and children- health care proxies, powers of attorney- in order to ensure basic financial health. Even in Massachusetts."

Heterosexuals get to say, "I do." All done. No additional legal work required, if a spouse dies, everything is transferred without tax or question. You check the "married" box. The government definition of their marriage is powerful insurance.

How many people filing the basic 1040E tax form have the resources and financial ability to hire a LGBT issue savvy attorney, consult a tax accountant, and write up a series of documents? How many people understand the new provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006? Or how to offset the tax burden of domestic partner health insurance?

Goodridge adds, "There are significant additional costs in planning for estates and even then there are no guarantees their family of origin will not legally challenge their final wishes."

Great. After spending a bunch of additional dollars, you still might end up buried next to Aunt Martha and your partner thrown out of the home you bought together.

I'm not talking about a revolution. I'm not trying to give reason for a swarm of locusts to descend. I'm married, I live in Massachusetts and I want to file my taxes.

Sometime before midnight on April 14th.

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 9, 2008 12:21 AM

To be successful financially, and in a Gay relationship with dependents, is an incredible accomplishment. Over the 32 years and counting that my partner and I have been together we have become familiar with land trusts for our jointly owned properties, mutual power of attorney documents and regular contributions to our deserving accountant. We started off with little in the way of material things, but have been fortunate and have worked very hard. We owned a sales business and rental properties together.

Twelve years ago my lover had to have a stint placed in a blood vessel following a stroke. We had him transferred, at his doctor's request, from the familiar hospital (that we knew from caring for his mother) to a "sister" hospital in a Catholic network of hospitals in Chicago that did more of these procedures. On the morning of the procedure I showed up at the new hospital expecting fully to see my partner prior to his procedure. Just to be there for him, talk, make him smile, and remind him of my constant love.

Instead I met a snotty blond bitch at a reception desk who told me I had no legal right to see my partner of twenty years prior to his surgery.

"What is your relationship to the patient?"

"I am his partner and I am everything to him, and you will not prevent me from seeing him."

They had failed to forward his power of attorney paperwork to the new hospital. I informed homophobe blondie of the name of my attorney and created a significant disturbance. Shortly a little old nun appeared, attempted to calm me down and asked me to wait in her office.

"You will see your Friend Dear." I was told.

My fury was such that I was ready to explode and any delay at this point I took as a personal affront. To my surprise the nun was most interested that I not be in a disturbed mood when I saw my partner prior to his procedure.

And so it was, but if I had been one degree less forceful, and depended upon them to do what was right rather than what was expedient, I would not have been with my partner before this procedure.
In that I had my lawyer on speed dial and my partner's quite memorable sister screaming at the nun on her office speaker phone had to have helped.

The money and tax stuff seems like everything, but it is really the small stuff. Keep copies of your powers of attorney within easy reach at all times and have plenty of them made. Keep an extra set of everything in the trunk of your car. Include mutual couple protections for your children so that a hospital cannot disenfranchise one spouse over another. Be certain to have everything reviewed if you change state of residence.

Love Fiercely.

Great story, Robert. You're a damn good example - along with Sara's tax situation - of why we continue the fight.

One thing that always lifts my eyebrow though? The lack of comments on posts that deal with finances. It is almost as if we're afraid to talk about it.