Same-Sex Marriage Tax Guide: 16 Essential Tax Rules and Tips
Same-Sex Marriage Tax Guide: Essential Tax Rules and Tips
Federal tax rules for same-sex couples have recently been issued in response to the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, No. 12-307 (U.S. 6/26/13). This landmark case invalidated a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and resulted in major changes in the tax landscape for many same-sex partners.
These new tax rules were laid out in I.R. 2013-72 on August 29, 2013 and Revenue Ruling 2013-17 on September 16, 2013 and are effective on that date. (Note that taxpayers who wish to rely on the terms of this Revenue Ruling for earlier periods may choose to do so, as long as the statute of limitations for the earlier period has not expired. More on this below.)
Although there are still some unresolved issues, the following will lay out many of the basic federal income tax rules for same-sex married couples:
- State of Celebration Rule: Same-sex couples that are legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages are treated as married for federal tax purposes.
- The rule applies even if this couple is currently living in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage. The IRS states that this is consistent with its long-standing position (Rev. Rul. 58-66) that for federal tax purposes the IRS will recognize marriages based on the law of the state in where consummated and will disregard later changes in domicile.
- For example, a same-sex couple validly married in New York will still be treated as married when they move to Pennsylvania.
- Married: Being married is any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign country.
- Domestic Partnerships: Registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships are not considered legal marriages.
- Married For All Purposes Under Federal Law: Under the ruling, legally married same-sex couples are treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes.
- Federal Income Tax Benefits For Married Same-Sex Couples: Married same-sex couples can now enjoy the tax benefits associated with being treated as married for all federal tax provisions, including but not limited to:
- Filing status
- Claiming personal and dependency exemptions
- Taking the standard deduction
- Employee benefits
- Contributing to an IRA
- Claiming the earned income tax credit
- Claiming the child tax credit.
- Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately Only Option After September 16, 2013: After September 16, 2013, legally married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status.
- Two High Income Family: In some cases, especially where both spouses are high wage earners this may result in greater taxes than under earlier law.
- Civil Unions In Certain States May End Up Paying Less Taxes: Civil unions or domestic partnerships that can still file singly or as head of household may end up in better tax shape in certain situations.
- Prior Year Tax Refund Possibility: Individuals who were in same-sex marriages may, but are not required to, file original or amended returns choosing married filing jointly for federal tax purposes for one or more earlier tax years still open under the statute of limitations.
- Statute of Limitations For Refunds: Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim is three years from the filing date of the return or two years from the date of the tax payment, whichever is later.
- As a result, refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
- Special Situations: For example, agreements with the IRS to keep open the statute of limitations for tax years 2009 and earlier will allow taxpayers to file refund claims for such open years .
- For how to file an amended return please read Amending Tax Returns with the IRS.
- Protective Claim: When the right to a refund is contingent and may not be determined until after the time period for amending returns expires, a taxpayer can file a protective claim for refund. The claim is often based on current litigation (constitutionality); expected changes in tax law; and other changes in legislation or regulations. A protective claim preserves the right to claim a refund until resolution of the matter.
- Example: Pennsylvania same-sex couples not considered married under current rules may want to file protective claims for any year where the statute of limitations period is ending.
- Fringe Benefits: Employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers or other fringe benefits on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.
- The IRS now provides a mechanism to pursue for filing refund claims under Notice 2013-61. The notice provides two streamlined administrative procedures for making adjustments or claiming refunds.
- IRS Further Guidance: The IRS will be issuing further guidance on cafeteria plans and on how qualified retirement plans and other tax-favored arrangements should treat same-sex spouses for periods before September 16, 2013.
- State Taxes: State tax return filing status is still controlled by state law. If same-sex marriages are not legal in their state then they cannot file as married. This is the case even though the marriage took place in a state where same-sex marriages are recognized.
- Estate Planning: Review estate plans to take advantage of the federal estate and gift tax breaks now given same-sex marriages. For insights into estate planning please read Estate Planning 2013: Now What? A Must Read for Everyone
- Estate Tax Refunds: Additionally, claims for refunds of any estate taxes paid on deceased spouses that are still open under the statute of limitations should also be carefully examined.
- Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for gift or estate taxes should file Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.
These are just some of the tax and financial implications in this area. Same-sex couples affected by these changes should explore estate planning, retirement planning, employee benefits, and social security implications with their estate planning attorney, accountant and financial adviser team.
Stay tuned because this area will continue to evolve and change.
Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.