Falling in love is wonderful, but combining two separate financial lives may not be as much fun. Especially when partners decide not to marry, or cannot get married.
In the last ten years, most Fortune 500 companies have extended domestic partner benefits, and many states have passed laws to make it easier for domestic partners to take advantage of insurance benefits.
One of my dearest friends and clients is an attorney who specializes in estate planning for domestic partners, especially same-sex couples. In my work at Rey Insurance, I’ve been able to help her clients who weren’t sure how to address their insurance portfolio and potential insurance needs.
Many major group health insurers allow for domestic partners to be included on the employee’s group plan. Check with your employer’s group plan in your state to find out if the carrier allows for domestic partner benefits. Some health carriers recognize same-sex partners but not unmarried heterosexual couples as domestic partners.
Currently, private employers are not mandated to offer health insurance benefits to their employees. However, if they elect to offer benefits to employees, they must follow established laws regarding marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.
Most states have laws that ban same-sex marriage or civil unions, but here’s a quick overview of the states that permit them. You can find more information about domestic partnership laws at the Human Rights Campaign.
California: Same-sex couples can register as domestic partners.
Connecticut: Marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since November 2008.
Washington, D.C.: The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 was signed into law on Dec. 15, 2009. Licenses became available on March 3, 2010.
Hawaii: Same-sex couples are offered reciprocal beneficiary status, but same-sex marriage is not recognized.
Iowa: Same-sex marriage has been legal since April 27, 2009.
Maine: The domestic partner law allows same-sex couples to formalize relationships.
Maryland: Domestic partners are entitled to eleven protections available to spouses, including the rights to visit each other in the hospital, share a room in a nursing home, and make funeral decisions.
Massachusetts: Same-sex marriage has been legal since May 17, 2004.
Nevada: As of Oct. 1, 2009, same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples can register as domestic partners and receive the rights and responsibilities given to spouses under state law.
New Hampshire: Same-sex marriage has been legal since Jan. 1, 2010.
New Jersey: There are no explicit laws banning same-sex marriage, and the New Jersey civil unions law went into effect in 2007.
New Mexico: No law addresses same-sex marriages performed in other states, and the state offers domestic partnership benefits to state employees.
New York: New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Rhode Island: The state law does not explicitly ban marriage for same-sex couples, and same-sex couples have access to a few rights under state law.
Vermont: Same-sex marriage has been legal since Sept. 1, 2009.
Washington: Same-sex couples can register as domestic partners.
Wisconsin: Same-sex couples can register as domestic partners and receive limited rights and responsibilities under state law.
Since some states do not recognize domestic partners, and most don’t recognize same-sex marriage, it’s important to be aware of the laws and your rights, especially in regard to financial planning and estate planning. It’s critical to review possible financial consequences and consider how to provide for and protect loved ones. An attorney, accountant, financial planner, and insurance professional will be helpful in determining how you can overcome legal issues and maximize your benefits and insurance coverage.
One last note: Most of the insurance issues surrounding domestic partners are related to health insurance, but domestic partners should take a look at all of their insurance policies. If vehicles are insured separately, partners may be able to consolidate plans and benefit from a multi-car discount. Homeowner’s insurance policies may have special requirements for listing owners. If one or both partners are named in a lawsuit, how domestic partners are listed can greatly affect the suit.
There is wide variation in insurance benefits for domestic partners, depending on your state, employer, insurance carrier, and domestic partnership status. If you’re looking for insurance benefits for a same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partner, consult your financial planner and insurance professional to find out all your options.
Linda Rey is a licensed insurance agent at Rey Insurance with a broad spectrum of expertise in life, accident, health, property and casualty insurance as well as retirement planning and college funding strategies.