Berman & Asbel, LLP

Pennsylvania judge says partner has inheritance rights

A federal judge ruled that in order to comply with the recent Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, the same-sex spouse of deceased attorney should inherit her share of her law firm's profit-sharing plan.

The lawyer's parents had been fighting for the right to inherit the share. Their claim and the claim by their daughter's wife were both filed in 2010 when the Defense of Marriage Act remained the law of the land. Under that law, the term "spouse" in the employee benefits plan could not be read to include same-sex partners and the woman's parents would have inherited the money. However, this summer's ruling changed the law so that same-sex marriages are recognized in contracts and benefits plans governed by federal law. As a result, same-sex spouses may now inherit under the laws of intestacy (when there is no will). 


As we discussed in our previous post about how DOMA could affect estate planning, there are many aspects of the law of wills, trusts, and estates that will have to adjust under the new law.

In this case, the couple was married in Canada in 2006 and later moved to a state which recognizes same-sex marriage from other jurisdictions.

The decision will not impact the standing of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, which does not currently recognize them. Instead it affirms the new rule that same-sex marriage will be recognized in situations governed by federal law. In order to avail themselves of these benefits, including the right to inherit, couples must be legally married in one of the states that has expressly authorized same-sex marriages. 

Source: Philadelphia Post-Inquirer, "Judge awards late lawyer's benefits to lesbian spouse," Joseph A. Slobodzian, July 31, 2013. 

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