Federal Estate Tax Disadvantages for Same-Sex Couples

By Michael D. Steinberger
November 2009

Throughout the course of their lives, same-sex couples experience many legal challenges not faced by their heterosexual peers. Federal estate tax law continues this differential treatment into death. While the estate tax laws generally allow married heterosexuals to transfer unlimited assets to their spouses at death without incurring estate tax liability, Americans in same-sex relationships are limited in their ability to transfer assets tax-free to their same-sex partner upon death. Using data from several government data sources, this report estimates the dollar value of the estate tax disadvantage faced by same-sex couples. In 2009, the differential treatment of same-sex and married couples in the estate tax code will affect an estimated 73 same-sex couples, costing them each, on average, more than $3.3 million.

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