The Civil Marriage Protection Act came into effect in Maryland on January 1, 2013. The act recognizes the marriage of same sex couples. The passing of the act has an automatic impact on how same sex couples handle estate planning and the estate administration process. Prior to the Act, married couples were treated very differently from couples of the same sex but this has now changed.
Spouses have certain privileges over non-spouses in estate planning and estate administration. Under the Maryland Surrogacy Act, certain individuals have priority to make health care decisions for a person who is incapable of making such decisions. The patient’s spouse has priority over other family members such as a child, parent, brother or sister. Similarly, the spouse has priority to make funeral arrangements and an anatomical gift of the decedent’s body.
Whether an estate is considered a large estate or a small estate depends on whether a surviving spouse is inheriting the estate. An estate with a value of $100,000 or less can be administered as a small estate if the surviving spouse is the sole heir or legatee. In all other cases, the value of a small estate must be $50,000 or less. Because the small probate process is less expensive and easier to administer, a small estate probate is beneficial to a surviving spouse.
If the decedent died intestate, i.e. without a will, a spouse is an automatic heir and has priority to serve as the personal representative of the estate. If the decedent died with a will and the spouse was not satisfied with what was left to him or her under the will, the spouse can make an election against the will.
As of October 1, 2013, under Maryland law a family allowance of $10,000 is due to a surviving spouse prior to the final distribution of the estate. Previously, same sex couples did not get recognized under this provision which was a $5,000 allowance prior to the revised date.
Another benefit of marriage is that spouses are exempt from inheritance taxes and estate taxes when they inherit assets. This now applies to all under the Civil Marriage Protection Act.
As you can see, there are many benefits afforded a spouse under Maryland estate laws which will not benefit couples of the same sex. If you want more information regarding the new law and how it will affect you, scheduling an appointment with an estate planning attorney is advisable.
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