How are marriages and registered domestic partnerships treated for estate planning purposes?
Estate planning for California registered domestic partners can become quite complicated. The complexity arises as a result of how these unions are treated for California law purposes and how they are treated for federal law purposes. Namely, registered domestic partners (RDPs) are generally considered spouses for purposes of California law, but are not considered spouses for purposes of federal law.
As a result, an estate planning lawyer must carefully consider each component of the registered domestic partners' estate plan to understand the ramifications that the interplay of federal and state law have on how to transfer assets.
Some practitioners believe registered domestic partners, who for all practical purposes behave and have expectations of those who are married, might be better served by simply getting married. In some sense, registered domestic partnerships already have many of the restrictions imposed on married couples (e.g., restrictions on the transfer of community property, family allowance, probate homestead, transmutation requirements, etc.) but few of the benefits provided to married couples (e.g., unlimited marital deduction for estate tax purposes, filing of joint tax returns, etc.).
The various moving parts of the law surrounding registered domestic partnerships makes it difficult to provide generalizations that are broadly applicable. Every RDP couples' estate plan must be analyzed in the context of the assets they own and how they wish to dispose of them. For this reason, it is important for RDPs to consult an experienced estate planning lawyer.