United needs

//June 26, 2008

United needs

//June 26, 2008

Gay couples can marry in Massachusetts
and now California.

They can get civil unions or domestic partnerships in states
including New Jersey, Connecticut
and Vermont.

Everywhere else – and in dealing with the federal government
– they need a financial Plan B.

Drawing up that plan is an attractive niche for some
financial planners. They specialize in helping gay couples navigate a
bewildering web of state and federal laws and company policies.

The gay and lesbian community makes for a strong market,
said financial planner Shannon R. Shupp, who is gay. Shupp is agency director
of Central Penn Financial Group in Cumberland
County, which is
affiliated with New York City-based MetLife Inc.

“We are considered higher-

income earners as couples. We are considered individuals
that have more discretionary income. And we have these profound both legal and
financial issues that there seems to be a low level of awareness of,” she said.

Those issues range from sharing a home to putting aside
retirement money to protecting a house against the costs of long-term care.

“Over 1,000 federal benefits that pertain to married couples
… are out of reach for gay and lesbian couples,” said Joseph Kapp, a financial
planner in Bethesda, Md.

And that’s not counting state benefits. In Pennsylvania, for example, a husband would
receive his wife’s assets tax-free if she were to die. That is not true for a
gay couple. Simply putting assets under joint ownership does not solve the
problem. More specific financial and

legal arrangements are needed to minimize the tax hit.

“It’s a cost of being a gay or a lesbian in the society that
we’re in,” Shupp said of such extra planning. “But it is a necessary evil.”

The financial industry is paying more attention to that necessary evil, the
planners said.

“I’d say in the last five years there’s been an explosion of
awareness,” Shupp said.

Kapp, who is in a gay relationship, started doing this work
after he realized it was difficult to find a planner who understood the
situation. Service to gay couples is one of the last niches in the financial
industry, he said.

“I recognized that if I’m having this need, then there must
be a great business opportunity and a greater opportunity to educate and help
other gay and lesbian couples,” he said.

But many gay couples remain reluctant to seek help, Shupp
said. They might not realize how exposed they are to financial problems, she
said. They might worry about reaching out.

“There’s a fair amount of people still in the community that
are not out to their employers, to their families, even. And to reach out to
other professionals and to put their personal lives on the table … that’s a
very profound concern,” she said.

Kristin Kest and Sandy Slonaker of Warrington
Township, York County,
asked for help after hearing informally from Shupp about her services. The
couple wed in Canada in
2004, but their marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania.

“We had to take measures to protect not only our financial
assets but also our medical and physical issues,” Kest said. That meant visits
to lawyers for a slew of legal documents authorizing joint responsibilities
that are routine in marriage.

Kest and Slonaker said the bottom line is that it’s more
expensive to be homosexual than to be straight.

“Now you need all this extra money to cover yourself because
you’re gay,” Slonaker said.

The couple has a plan that cobbles together their financial
life, but they would prefer a legally recognized union. Kest said she doesn’t
care if it’s called marriage or something else.

“What I want is the financial and legal equality. That’s
what I want,” she said. “We pay taxes the same as everyone else. Our money is
as good as everyone else’s.”

The fine print…

Gay couples face complex choices when it comes to their
financial future. Here are some examples from financial planners Joseph Kapp
and Shannon Shupp:

…and the feelings

This is much more than a cold numbers game. Financial
planning can be particularly sensitive for gay couples. For example,
unsupportive family members may try to interfere with the wishes of a deceased
partner in a gay relationship, Kapp said.

He recalled one incident in which the sister of a deceased
client made clear to him that she had discovered her brother was gay. That
shifted the course of their conversation from numbers and legalities to

“I said, ‘You know what, let’s stop this for a second
because there’s some things I think we really need to talk about,'” Kapp said.

“There’s nothing that actually prepares you for something
like that,” Kapp said.


For more information on financial plans for gay couples,
visit the “Seven Days to a Better Financial You” campaign of the Human Rights
Campaign, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit. Go to www.hrc.org and
search for “Seven Days.”

-David Dagan

Partnership rights in the states

Each of the shaded states recognizes same-sex couples.
Approaches range from full-fledged marriages to civil unions to more limited
recognition of domestic partnerships.

On the other end of the spectrum, some states ban legal
recognition of same-sex marriages by statute and often in their constitutions. Pennsylvania is in the
middle, with a statutory ban on same-sex marriages.

The 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act,” signed into law by
then-President Bill Clinton,
defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the eyes of the federal

– Court-mandated gay marriage began June 17, 2008.

– Court-mandated gay marriage began in 2004.

New York
– Court-mandated recognition for gay marriages from other states began in 2008.

Source: Human Rights Campaign