In June, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, inspiring parades, weddings — and plenty of questions for financial planners.
The ruling may mean there will be less demand for niche financial-planning services for same-sex couples a few years down the road. After all, legal marriage eliminates LGBT couples’ need for complicated financial gymnastics and legal work-arounds. But that’s not the case just yet. That’s because while Obergefell v. Hodges may have legalized same-sex marriage, it also left many questions unanswered.
Advisors working with same-sex couples can benefit from educating themselves about the history of the fight for same-sex marriage, says Rosalind Sutch, head of the LGBT tax- and financial-planning practice at Drucker & Scaccetti, a Philadelphia-based boutique accounting firm specializing in tax planning: “Understanding how each step became law can help you make sense of the opportunities out there — and it also earns you credibility with your LGBT clients.”
As a result of the Supreme Court decision, many advisors may find same-sex clients asking whether it makes financial sense for them to get married. That’s not a simple question to answer: While high-net-worth couples are likely to find tax advantages from marriage, middle-income couples might not see the same benefits. If a same-sex couple has created elaborate work-arounds to deal with state and federal laws, they may call upon their advisor to help them determine what they still need to worry about. For example, clients who listed someone other than a partner as the beneficiary for an IRA might not realize that getting married might make that beneficiary designation null and void unless they get a spousal waiver.
One way to better serve your LGBT clients is to stay up to date by following the blogs of organizations like Lambda Legal and GLAAD. “There are definitely different challenges from a financial-planning perspective,” says Sutch. “If you don’t know the community well, you may not even know what questions to ask.”
Sharon Herman, founder of Lithia, Fla.-based Silver Key Wealth Management, an affiliate of LPL Financial, connects with fellow professionals to make sure her LGBT clients get the best advice possible. “I’ve met people through the LGBT Bar Association and other professional groups. That way when clients have questions, I know just who to send them to,” she says.
While building a strong network is important for all advisors, it can be particularly welcome for LGBT clients, who still face discrimination in many parts of the country. “LGBT clients feel comfortable knowing that I’ve worked with the community quite a bit — they know they can be open with me, and they appreciate that I recommend them to CPAs and attorneys who are the same way,” Herman says.
When it comes to discussing marriage, Herman says that it’s important for advisors not to assume that long-term LGBT couples will immediately exchange rings just because they now have the legal right to do so. “I’ve had couples come in where one is gung ho about getting married and the other hems and haws,” she says. “As an advisor, all you can do is give them the financial pros and cons of both decisions and let them work it out between themselves.
Duncan Rolph, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Miracle Mile Advisors, which manages $500 million, believes that same-sex couples aren’t that different from heterosexual couples from a financial-planning perspective. “While there are some specific considerations you need to think through, the process and goals are still very much the same — particularly after the Supreme Court case,” he says.
That said, one important difference Rolph takes into consideration when planning for LGBT couples has to do with life expectancies. Women live several years longer than men on average — “that can have a real impact on your surviving-spouse modeling and therefore on what recommendations you make for them today,” he says.
“Ultimately though, same-sex couples want to maintain their lifestyle. They want to feel secure in retirement. They want to attain certain milestones in life,” Rolph says. “Sometimes I think advisors treat the LGBT demographic more differently than they need to. The whole point of the Supreme Court case was to normalize the situation — which is a real benefit to everyone.”