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The face of the American family is changing rapidly.  In fact, according to the U.S. Census, only one of out five American families today are considered traditional families – two married, opposite sex parents with one or more children under the age of 21.  Instead, couples are choosing to marry less and later; many divorced parents are living as an expanded family rather than a broken one; many families include stepchildren, children brought to them through international adoptions, and extended family members; and, perhaps most importantly, the federal government and many states have recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry.


While these changes represent tremendous opportunity for people to define family on their own terms, it also comes with a unique set of challenges and questions which need to be addressed.  So-called "nontraditional" couples, including unmarried couples, married same-sex couples, and couples in second marriages, face distinct issues that may require specialized estate planning.  Such couples do not always benefit from the same spousal rights, tax incentives and legal presumptions as their traditional counterparts.  For instance, couples who are not married may not take advantage of the federal unlimited estate and gift tax marital deductions, and they may be subject to gift tax for certain asset transfers made to their partners. An unmarried couple may not inherit under state intestacy laws if a partner dies without a Will.  Conversely, couples in second marriages may find that they need to plan around their marital status in order to protect their accumulated wealth and future income, and to ensure that their children, especially children from first marriages, are provided for appropriately. 


Nontraditional families should plan ahead to protect themselves from the unintended consequences that may occur due to insufficient estate planning.  With careful preparation, nontraditional families can ensure that their property is distributed according to their wishes, transfer taxes are minimized and end of life decisions conform with their desires. 


Lara Sass & Associates, PLLC offers a full range of quality estate planning services for nontraditional couples and families, anticipating and handling issues involving:


  • Protecting ownership of the family home

  • Protecting custody of the family’s minor children

  • Protecting the surviving partner’s right to manage the finances of the family’s minor children in the event of the other partner’s death

  • Asset preservation for distribution to children of a first marriage and/or stepchildren

  • Protecting family members’ rights to make medical decisions for their partners and minor children

  • Protecting family members’ rights to make financial decisions in the event one partner becomes incapacitated

  • Ensuring that state probate laws do not override the family’s wishes regarding inheritance

  • Correctly designating beneficiaries on life insurance and other policies

  • Minimizing the impact of estate taxes and income taxes on the surviving partner

  • Planning for and minimizing Will contests by family members unhappy with the decisions and bequests made in one's Will and other estate planning documents

  • Burial instructions, or granting the right over burial decisions, to the surviving partner over other blood relatives

  • Protecting against divorce 

  • Business succession planning to include extended family members; and much more.


The prevalence of divorce; adoption; remarriage; and lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships has led the American family to emerge in a variety of forms.  Though nontraditional couples face unique challenges compared to traditional married couples, they have a wide range of estate planning strategies to choose from, so that their estates will be distributed as they intend, gift and estate taxes will be minimized, and critical decisions concerning their finances and healthcare will be made by trusted individuals during either partner's incapacity. Lara Sass & Associates, PLLC can advise you regarding the strategies to employ in order to best meet your family's needs and your dispositive wishes. 


In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a state ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  As a consequence of this decision, a number of estate planning opportunities have arisen for individuals in a same sex relationship.  Same sex couples should, therefore, consider:


  • Same sex married couples should consider revising their estate planning documents to ensure that the bequests given to spouses are still appropriate.

  • Married couples are entitled to several tax breaks, and same sex marriages are now offered the same privileges.  The unlimited marital deduction for estate and gift tax is something that same sex couples should consider when contemplating whether to remain in a domestic partnership or to get married.

  • Same sex couples should review their beneficiary designations for their retirement accounts once married because a surviving spouse can roll over a deceased spouse's retirement account without being required to take minimum distributions until the required minimum age.

  • Same sex married couples should consider replacing individual life insurance policies with survivor policies.

  • Each spouse should consider splitting gifts between themselves, such that each spouse may make gifts from his or her own assets and have these gifts considered to have been made one-half by the other spouse.

  • Tax returns should be amended to reflect the marital status.

  • If one spouse is not a United States citizen, he or she can now seek residency or citizenship.

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