Changes to PA law ensure rights for same-sex marriages

As of May 20, 2014, Pennsylvania has joined eighteen other states in the legalization of same-sex marriage. The resulting changes have raised many questions as to how same sex spouses will be considered under existing law. The implications of Whitewood v. Wolf on the Pennsylvania title and encumbrance principles now permits same sex couples to properly title real estate.

The ruling in Whitewood v. Wolf impacts all same sex couples seeking a marriage in Pennsylvania as well as the status of recognizing same sex marriages in other state and nations. This has effects on the wording and understanding of title matters. The verbiage no longer indicates husband and wife creating an estate by the entirety, rather addresses the notion by acknowledging only the marriage and that they are taking title “as tenants by the entirety”. No identification as to the sex or gender of the parties is referenced.

These changes will mean a dramatic shift in estate planning matters as well. Inheritance tax and intestate succession for decedents’ estates are reviewed in accordance with the aforementioned title principles. This is a great relief to same sex couples - significant others were not eligible to receive the same beneficiary rights as heterosexual couples.

Same sex couples should understand that joint tenancy is not automatically changed once legally married. The couple must record a new deed to themselves, which converts ownership to a tenancy by the entirety. If a spouse individually owns the real estate prior to the marriage, title doesn’t automatically change to joint (which is the standard regardless of the type of marriage.)

Whitewood v. Wolf heralds a new era. Our legal landscape will adapt, but this can be a difficult and confusing journey. As the laws continue to be revised and interpreted, we will continue to provide updates and information. Regardless of the type of marriage, we urge couples to visit and revisit their beneficiary designations, and other estate documents to ensure accuracy. Deeds and titles can be confusing and are usually a concern once something has gone wrong – being proactive to clarify these issues can benefit you and your family.

Call (215) 693-6191 to schedule an appointment with an experienced Bucks County divorce lawyer today. Attorney Kuldiner is particularly versed in real estate and title matters. Before signing or changing any title matters, consult with an experience attorney.