My Job is to Make People 'Substantially Similar'
The following op-ed ran in last week's Arcadia News-Leader.
I think it adds a new twist to what the second sentence could mean. Beause the (weekly) Arcadia paper doesn't post full content online and because the op-ed is good, I'm posting the full text here.
The author, Christina Mae Olson, has been a Certified Financial Planner practitioner since 1996. The nationally recognized and regulated CFP designation is awarded to those individuals who have met the rigorous education, examination, experience and ethical requirements of the CFP Board.
MARRIAGE BAN HAS FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES
By Christina Mae Olson, CFP®
There are many reasons why voting for the ban on civil unions and gay marriage is wrong. If passed, this ban will impact the financial lives of ordinary families - gay and straight. It will harm some senior citizens – couples for whom marriage would be a bad financial decision. The ban will even harm heterosexual couples who choose not to marry.
I work with individuals, couples and families of all sorts in the Coulee Region. As a financial planner, my job is to help people identify and meet their financial goals.
The problem I have with the proposed constitutional amendment is with the second part – the part that would render illegal any sort of status that resembles marriage. This is how it reads:
“…A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state…”
What does “substantially similar” mean, exactly? In order to protect their financial lives - unmarried couples must take many extra steps to structure their lives to be just this – substantially similar to marriage.
They pay good money for legal and tax advice to insure their status as a couple is honored legally. They have to title their property in a certain way. They write wills and durable powers of attorney. In order to pass assets to each other they require specific beneficiary designations and labels like “TOD” – transfer on death, or “POD” – payable on death. Some insurance companies don’t sell policies to unmarried couples. In this case couples must prove “insurable interest” to show how loss of life or property would create a financial hardship if one partner dies.
Unmarried couples must justify to hospitals that they deserve to sit at the bedside of a sick partner. They use trusts to pass assets to each other and without excessive taxation at death. These steps give unmarried individuals a status substantially similar to marriage. The ban could very likely take these strategies away.
Individuals in committed relationships deserve the same legal status as married people. And since gay couples in particular cannot legally marry, they need this to protect their financial lives! Married couples don’t have to worry about a loved one loosing their savings to the death tax (married people can pass an unlimited amount of assets to each other at death without taxation). Married couples can obtain health insurance through an employer for their spouse. The constitutional ban may require corporations who offer domestic partner health insurance to discontinue that practice.
Here is one real life example of how a gay couple, my clients, was affected by not being able to have that legal status identical to marriage. Any couple (not legally married) could face these problems.
Jim and Tony, together 17 years, hired me to do a complete financial plan in 1999. They took many of the steps I listed above to protect themselves (including, thankfully – buying more life insurance). They adopted a son in 2000. In 2002, Jim was diagnosed with late stage colon cancer. He died in 2003. His will left everything to Tony and their son, Adam. Even though they owned their house together – the home equity was taxed to Tony as if it were a gift. That’s the law if you are not married. Jim left his IRA’s and pension to Tony. Tony has to pay taxes on that money now. A spouse can continue to defer taxes on an inherited IRA. Jim drew up powers of attorney for health care – so Tony could make medical decisions while Jim was in the hospital. When Jim died – Tony was refused access to Jim’s medical records because he wasn’t “related”. Powers of attorney are only valid when you are alive. Tony had to ask Jim’s sister, who lives in Montana, to obtain his medical records and even the death certificate when Jim died. The hospital would not release Jim’s body to Tony. Two funeral homes refused Tony’s business. Tony had to deal with all of this in the midst of coping with Jim’s death. Finally, when Tony applied for survivor benefits with the Social Security administration – their system had no way to allow for a surviving parent being the same sex as the deceased. Son Adam eventually qualified for survivor benefits but not until after Tony hired a lawyer to fight for them. Of course, Tony did not qualify for the over $350,000 in spousal benefits that a legally married spouse would be entitled to.
The consequences of this ban are overwhelming and far reaching. It would make situations like that faced by Jim and Tony tremendously worse. Everyone in Wisconsin should have the same rights. Don’t exclude some of our citizens from these rights. Please vote NO on this ban on November 7th.