By Jamie Rubenstein
In the midst of all those Pride parades and Fourth of July celebrations, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark DOMA/Prop 8 rulings were generating a whole new cottage industry: dispensing of legal and financial advice to a LGBT community thirsty for information on how to cope.
For those investment houses, finance planners and tax attorneys who may have prepared in advance, social media from Twitter to Facebook and blogs to Linkedin, was in many cases proving a handy vehicle to get out messaging on how to serve same sex couples eager now to tie the knot but worried about tax traps in those 37 non-binding states.
“We’re on Twitter and Facebook and we’re looking to put some new DOMA material on Facebook later this afternoon,” said a spokeswoman for Irvine, California estate attorney, Mark Powell, founder of a website, Practical Plans, which doles out “easy and accessible” planning advice to domestic partners.
Even before the June 27 issuance of the DOMA ruling, Powell was urging his clients on “Practical Plans” to address estate planning concerns since “every state has a different process for how assets pass on to spouses.”
“In California, for example, there’s a default set of rules that impose a year-long probate court process on transferring assets to a surviving spouse and I don’t want my spouse to wait that long to have control of my assets, and I can avoid that long delay by creating a living trust,” suggested Powell.
Gary Altman, a Rockville, Md. attorney, who has been using a blog to convey DOMA advice, has reminded clients that “in light of the DOMA decision, it is now critically important that same sex couples create or update planning documents and this includes a will, power of attorney, medical records and trusts.”
“We will probably advise all same-sex married couples to calculate their income taxes for the past few years as married to determine if it makes sense to file an amended income tax return,” he said. “Moreover, in the event that someone’s spouse had died, and the surviving spouse paid estate taxes, either to the federal government or to a state, like Maryland, it would make sense to file for a refund at this time.”
With all the new DOMA comments, Altman’s blog, “Altman Speaks” is getting posted on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn with a firm spokeswoman noting that “we are active on social media.”
Likewise, in Chicago, Mark Schondorf, a family law attorney in suburban Northfield, said he has already received a “very good response” to his website SchondorfLaw.com summarizing DOMA/Prop 8 and appearing also on Facebook and Linkedin
“I regularly engage social networking as part of my overall marketing regimen,” explained Schondorf, noting his blog contains short blurbs and links to divorced related articles. “I often post some of the more interesting links on those pages as well and I write a monthly newsletter that I e-mail to my contacts, which also gets posted on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages.”
Schondorf maintains he does not write the viral items “necessarily to increase my audience, but to remain present in my contacts’ minds so that I am always ‘on their radar’ so when they think ‘divorce,’ they think of me.”
Not everyone uses social media as easily. Take those registered investment firms bound by strict regulations of the SEC and FINRA, making them shy away from using the popular vehicles like Twitter and Facebook. Instead they rely on newsletters and email.
In using traditional vehicles following the DOMA decision, David Hollander, an Oakland attorney and president/CEO of Liberty Group LLC, is forecasting the IRS will start new regulations and guidelines “before tax time next year and I am recommending all same-sex couples pay special attention to the IRS’s response” to the rulings.
“Another thing to look out for will be whether the changes are retroactive – meaning same-sex couples could amend their tax returns going back three years to see if they overpaid,” he suggested.
Tina Powell, a partner and director of business management at Beacon Wealth Management, a $220 million Hackensack, N.J. registered investment advisory firm assisting same sex couples, maintains a “social media messaging” network that complies with all federal regulations.
Powell pointed out she is a frequent speaker on the topic and recently developed a program called “Twitternomics” aimed “at teaching advisors and beginners on how to use Twitter within their organizations.
Powell; who spoke to over 300 advisors at TD Ameritrade’s National Conference last February, said the firm maintains “a dedicated compliance attorney” and a special “social media policy” which is carefully adhered to.
In getting out messaging, LegalReach, a San Francisco firm, said the DOMA rulings have provided a fertile new market for its access network of linking up small firm lawyers, foundations, clients and recruiters “to help make sense of the most complicated legal issues and enable attorneys to build their practices.”
“LegalReach is well positioned to connect the top legal minds to solve complex legal issues for clients with peers and clients in small firms,” said a statement. The “Supreme Court rulings drive home the point that changing laws with huge ramifications across multiple states and foundations require clients, counsels, attorneys and recruiters to rely on a legal network that connects people quickly.
Jamie Rubenstein is a Chicago-based freelancer specializing in finance and government/public policy issues. He has written for trade journals covering commercial banking and thrift institutions. He is the former Midwest Bureau Chief of American Banker and senior correspondent for Credit Union Times.
You can contact him at Jamie7539@aol.com