In the United States we have a federal estate tax. There is however a $5.25 million lifetime exclusion. Only the portion of your estate that exceeds this figure is subject to the estate tax.
This exclusion applies to assets that you pass along to people other than your spouse. We have an unlimited marital deduction. You can leave any amount of money to your spouse without reducing the amount of your lifetime exclusion.
There are states in the United States that recognize gay marriages. Some countries recognize them as well. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act the federal government did not recognize these marriages.
This matter was at the core of a Supreme Court ruling that was recently handed down. A woman named Edith Windsor challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. She was forced to pay the federal estate tax when she inherited a significant sum from her spouse Thea Spyer in 2009.
She was of the mind that she should have been able to utilize the unlimited marital deduction because she was in fact legally married. The couple got married in Canada in 2007.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. As a result, the federal government must now recognize legally sanctioned same-sex marriages.
This has some very profound estate planning implications. If you are a member of the LGBT community you would do well to discuss the ramifications of this Supreme Court ruling with an estate planning attorney sooner rather than later.