Treatment of Same-Sex Spouses and Civil Union Partners Under Illinois Probate Law

Web Admin - Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Rolling Meadows same sex couple estate planning lawyerThe state of Illinois has recognized civil unions of same-sex couples since 2011 and same-sex marriage since 2014. But it was not until 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that all states were required to allow and recognize same-sex marriages. These changes over the past decade have had a major impact on estate planning for same-sex couples.

Differences Between Illinois’ Civil Union Act and Marriage Fairness Act

The 2011 Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (750 ILCS 75) declares that a party to a civil union “is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits” that the law of Illinois affords to spouses. This law did not, however, mention children of civil union partners or other family members.

The 2014 Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act (750 ILCS 80) more forcefully declares that its purpose is to provide same-sex and different-sex couples and their children “equal access to the status, benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities of civil marriage.” It goes on to say that parties to a marriage and their children “shall have all the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law.”   

Conversion of a Civil Union to a Marriage in Illinois

Civil unions were not automatically converted to marriages when the 2014 law was passed. Rather, the Civil Union Act was modified in 2014 to allow the voluntary conversion of a civil union to a marriage at no cost. Through May 2015, a couple could have their civil union redesignated as a marriage just by applying to a county clerk. The effective date of the marriage would be the same as the effective date of the earlier civil union. 

As of June 2015, parties to a preexisting civil union must apply for a marriage certificate and have the marriage solemnized and registered as a marriage. The effective date of that marriage would be the date the marriage was solemnized.

Impact of a Civil Union vs. Marriage on Estate Planning

Spousal inheritance rights are the same in Illinois, whether you are legally in a same-sex civil union, same-sex marriage, or different-sex marriage. Still, if you entered into a civil union, you may want to convert that to a marriage, just to ensure that your relationship is recognized as a legal marriage nationwide and internationally. For example, when partners are citizens of different countries, an actual marriage certificate will generally be needed in order for the spousal relationship to be recognized for immigration purposes. In addition, the same-sex marriage law specifically references “children” and “family” of the couple.

Also, if you entered into a civil union at some point, and the relationship broke up, you should be sure that the civil union was legally dissolved; the process is the same as for the dissolution of a marriage in Illinois. If the civil union was not legally dissolved, or converted to a marriage followed by a divorce, one partner could still claim the right to inherit from the other.

Inheritance and Related Rights of Same-Sex Married Couples Recognized Nationally

Same-sex couples gained numerous inheritance-related benefits as a result of nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, such as:

- The couple no longer has to worry about moving from a state where same-sex marriage was recognized to a state where it was not.

- If one spouse dies without a written will or trust, the other will now automatically inherit under the laws of their state of residence.

- When one spouse dies, the other can claim the marital deduction for federal gift and estate tax purposes.

- When one spouse dies, leaving the other as beneficiary of a qualified retirement account, the surviving spouse can roll over those assets into their personal retirement account, allowing for optimal asset protection and income tax planning. 

- As a living individual in 2018, you can make inter vivos gifts of up to $15,000 per person per year with no tax implications. However, you can gift as much as you want to your spouse. 

- Spouses can make medical decisions for one another without requiring a power of attorney for health care.

Consult a Palatine Same-Sex Marriage Estate Planning Lawyer

Whether you are married to a same-sex or different-sex spouse, particularly if you have children, you should really have an estate plan, including basic documents such as advanced healthcare directives and powers of attorney. Talk to an experienced Schaumburg estate planning attorney at Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. We can help you develop a will, trust, and other legal plans that will provide emotional and financial security for you and your family for the long-term. Contact us at 847-934-6000 for a free consultation.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.


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