There has been an unprecedented shift in the way same-sex couples are perceived, from both a legal and a social perspective. The Supreme Court's rejection in June of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act paved the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But because the court did not require states to follow suit, the legal waters are still murky. Same-sex couples married in one of the 13 states that recognize gay marriage will have full state and federal recognition -- but same-sex couples in the other states will not. To further complicate matters, there is ambiguity regarding how to apply this new standard. Helping these couples figure out how to plan their finances and protect their assets remains complicated, and will for some time.
Same-sex couples need a knowledgeable and trustworthy advisor to help them navigate these turbulent waters and help them create the best possible financial plans to protect their future. Here are three tips to consider when advising these couples:
1. Be inclusive: When advising gay couples, make sure you are inclusive in your language and your advising style. Even if you consider yourself open and accepting of gay lifestyles, you may not know exactly how to talk about these issues. Often we are taught to treat everyone the same, but this is not effective with gay clients. Same-sex couples have a different history than traditional couples and experience acceptance in society at varying levels. It is better to risk your own discomfort by asking all the questions you need to know in order to assess the couple’s financial and personal goals and objectives.
2. Be curious: There are more variations in how same-sex couples make and manage money than with heterosexual couples -- in part because they don't have set gender roles to contend with. Instead, these partners make it up as they go along. It is vital that you ask curious, open-ended questions to learn more about how the couple earns money and makes financial decisions.
3. Be knowledgeable: It is important to stay up-to-date with the changing state and federal laws. Consult with an attorney who specializes in this area, and stay in regular contact with your clients. When it comes to having children and estate planning, there are additional issues to consider. Even getting a divorce can get complicated for a gay couple, depending on where they live and where they got married. And unfortunately, despite advocates’ efforts, it will not become clear-cut any time soon.
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Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert and founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including “How to Give Financial Advice to Women” and “How to Give Financial Advice to Couples,” both published by McGraw-Hill. For more information, visit kbkwealthconnection.com.