You would think that the recent moves by a number of states to legalize same-sex unions in one way or another would help the gay community immensely, but it's not in financial planning.


Why? Because gay and lesbian couples usually have a complex financial plan simply due to the fact that they don't have the common safeguards that are present in a typical or traditional marital sense.


For example, take the matter of life insurance. There are states that can challenge a policyholder from naming an unrelated beneficiary. What happens is that gay couples then have to go the route of establishing complicated trust arrangements so that the payout from the policy will go to the designated individual.


Here's something else to consider. Gay couples still have to get around those federal prohibitions against same-sex marriages, implemented under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. This means that even if the couple was joined in Vermont, the partners remain pretty much strangers in Washington's eyes so that there won't be any federal benefits for married people such as the unlimited tax-free spousal gifts and Social Security transfers.


It's been suggested by some financial planners that gay couples should consider certain changes in their modus operandi in the event they choose to marry under a specific state law. For example, having a domestic partnership agreement in place. It's kind of a prenuptial agreement. 
 
Also, consider a medical power of attorney which permits one partner to make health-care decisions for the other. Coupled with this is the durable power of attorney that, in essence, names someone to make financial decisions.


As most lawyers will tell you, wills are vital because, for the most part, if one dies without a will, then the bulk of the estate automatically goes to the closest blood relatives. It's been advised that even in a state that recognizes same-sex unions, a will is necessary. For example, suppose there is a vacation home in Florida. That home will go directly to the blood relatives because Florida doesn't recognize gay marriages.


Moreover, watch those beneficiary designations. It covers who gets assets such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and savings accounts.


One crucial aspect relating to retirement planning revolves around the strength the relationship. A recent study by Cornell University suggests that although the quality of marriage influences the extent of retirement preparation, the link between relationship satisfaction and retirement planning is much stronger for same-sex couples.


In addition, a report released by the Human Rights Campaign this past January, affirms that same-sex couples stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and an average of $5,000 in yearly Social Security survivor benefits. That report also indicates that such "widows" and "widowers" are heavily taxed on any retirement plans such as 401(k)s or IRAs inherited from their partners, while heterosexual spouses may inherit the plans tax-free.


Todd Rainey, author and financial consultant, lectures widely on investment strategies. He has found that many in the gay community are simply uninterested in financial planning. "In my practice, an overwhelming amount of straight individuals save and invest early on in their working careers, but gays and lesbians just don’t want to plan. If I have a financial seminar targeted towards gays and lesbians, I’m lucky if 10 people show up, but if I have a general seminar, I usually get more than 100 people."


Here's an opportunity for a financial planner to make some headway in this increasingly critical area.

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