Celebrating marriage equality, Illinois groups act quickly in dispensing financial advice

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By Jamie Rubenstein

From Chicago to Belleville, LGBT advocacy groups, along with lawyers and financial advisors across the state, were wasting little time in familiarizing same-sex couples with the financial and legal benefits of the landmark bill awaiting the signature of Governor Pat Quinn.

Within hours of the House passing the Illinois Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, 61-54, and getting state Senate concurrence, Equality Illinois, a leading proponent of legalizing marriage equality, began formal online distribution of a resource booklet covering everything from civil rights to tax/estate issues. The new law, once signed by Quinn, takes effect June 1, 2014.

Apart from an online help desk and phone bank, Equality Illinois has scheduled “Marriage Forums” in twelve cities from the Quad Cities to Carbondale, including the Chicago suburbs. The dates and locations are to be posted on Facebook, Twitter along with notices sent via email and websites.

The Marriage Guide provides answers to such questions as “How do you convert your civil union into a marriage? What rights come with the marring a same sex partner?” explained Equality Illinois, noting also that the guide includes basic procedures for obtaining a license.

“There are now 40,000 same sex couples in Illinois based on census reports who next June can take advantage of all the financial and legal benefits accorded to straight couples,” said the CEO of Equality Illinois, Bernard Cherkasov.

One Chicago investment executive, David Helverson of Wells Fargo Advisors, said enactment of the new law will provide many new choices for same-sex couples in handling tax, social security and estate tax matters, stressing the need for couples to examine individual portfolios and consult with experts.

That’s because from a tax liability stance, some couples may benefit from filing individually rather than jointly, as allowed by federal law following the U.S. Supreme Court strikedown of the Defense of Marriage Act, said Helverson.

“When one of the partners makes $300,000 and the other $25,000 there are distinct advantages to [filing]jointly and that goes for handling social security benefits, too,” said Helverson. There are benefits to be received in asset transfer, he said noting however that if both partners are each high earners above say that $300,000 threshold, it might be advantageous to file separate returns. Regardless, couples ought to get good advice before making those crucial decisions, said Helverson who is an accredited domestic partnership advisor, a designation granted by the Denver-based College for Financial Planning.

“What happened yesterday is part of a pattern that has created a whole new world,” declared Chicago LGBT attorney Roger V. McCaffrey, citing the potpourri of new legal rights under the new statute as well as previous changes in Illinois law on power of attorney and spousal rights. There are simply “thousands of new rights” that now can provide benefits and advantages to Illinois LGBT couples and families, he said.

The DOMA changes of June 2013 are just part of the picture, he said, but there have been several changes in state law, culminating in the House vote on November 5, that serve as new legal milestones.

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