Federal Court Rules That Gay Widow Is Entitled to Estate Tax Refund

July 23, 2012

Finding that the Defense of Marriage Act’s (DOMA’s) denial of equal benefits to same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment, a federal court judge has awarded the surviving spouse of a lesbian couple reimbursement for the tax bill she paid on her wife’s estate.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer became engaged in 1967 and were married in Canada in 2007, although they lived in New York City. Ordinarily, spouses can leave any amount of property to their spouses free of federal estate tax. But when Ms. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor, now 82, had to pay Ms Spyer’s estate tax bill because of DOMA, a 1996 law that denies federal recognition of gay marriages.

Although New York State considered the couple married, the federal government did not and taxed Ms. Syper’s estate as though the two were not married. Ms. Windsor sued the U.S. government seeking to have DOMA declared unconstitutional and asking for a refund of the more than $350,000 in estate taxes she was forced to pay.

Federal court judge Barbara Jones from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that there was no rational basis for DOMA’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages. Jones stated that it was unclear how DOMA preserves traditional marriage, which is one of the stated purposes of the law.  As ElderLawAnswers reported last year, President Obama decided to stop defending DOMA, so members of Congress formed an advisory group to defend the law. This is the fifth case to strike down DOMA.

To read the court’s decision, click here.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

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Is Assisted Suicide Legal?

July 9, 2012

Assisted suicide is a controversial topic, but what exactly does the law say? Although there is much debate about the morality of helping a terminally ill person end their life, the fact remains that it is illegal in most states.

In 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled that there is no Constitutional right to assisted suicide, leaving states free to pass laws specifically prohibiting it. Under most state laws, helping someone commit suicide is a felony.

Only two states have passed laws legalizing assisted suicide in certain limited circumstances. Under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, physicians can prescribe lethal medication that will allow terminally ill individuals to end their lives. There are very specific steps–including waiting periods and release forms–that must be followed before the medication can be prescribed. Washington has a similar law.

The law in a third state, Montana, is less clear. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that physicians may prescribe medication to help terminally ill individuals end their lives, but lawmakers so far have not enacted a law that would allow this. Two bills regarding assisted suicide were introduced in the state legislature during the 2011 session, but neither made it out of committee.  One bill would have provided protection to doctors who assist in suicides, while the other would have banned assisted suicide.

For a full list of state assisted suicide laws, click here.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.