Same-sex couples in America may face many complex and complicated issues when filing taxes. Depending on what state you live in there are different processes for filing your returns and inheritance taxes. For this reason, if you live in Pennsylvania, it is best to use to the professional services of an inheritance lawyer in Pennsylvania and/or accountant who is experienced in same-sex couple tax issues.

Even if a same-sex couple becomes legally married in another state, their legal status as “married” ends at the Pennsylvania state border. This means that married or long-term gay and lesbian couples must file as “single” on their tax returns.

In addition to filing as separate entities, same-sex couples also may not enjoy some of the tax breaks that come along with heterosexual marriage such as federal taxes involving transfers of property and money between the couple. Pennsylvania inheritance tax is one such issue.

Breakdown of Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

The tax rate is dependent on the relationship of the heir to the descendent:

  • 0% on transfers of money to a surviving spouse or to a parent from a child 21 or younger;
  • 4.5% on transfers to the surviving direct descendants and lineal heirs;
  • 12% on transfers to siblings; and
  • 15% on transfers to other unrelated heirs except charitable organizations.

Direct descendants include birth children of the deceased and their descendants while lineal heirs are defined as grandparents, birth children and stepchildren. All tangible and intangible property of the deceased is subject to inheritance tax including:

  • cash;
  • vehicles;
  • furniture;
  • jewelry;
  • land; 
  • stocks;
  • safety deposit boxes;
  • bonds; and
  • bank accounts.

Same-sex couples would fall into the 15% Pennsylvania inheritance tax category as the state does not recognize them as married or otherwise related. Payment to state upon a person’s death must be paid within 9 months of the time of death before it is considered delinquent.

If the tax is paid in full within 3 months of a death a 5% discount is allowed by the state. You must file the inheritance taxes in the county in Pennsylvania in which the deceased person resides at the time of their death.

Access to Your Partner's Assets

In order to have access to a partner’s finances and property after they have passed away, many same-sex couples must make certain legal arrangements that will take effect after a partner’s passing. An inheritance lawyer can help a same-sex couple decide what legal options are best for them in this type of situation.

Some documents that may prove helpful when dealing with Pennsylvania inheritance tax include:

  • a will;
  • revocable living trust; and
  • a financial power of attorney.

Couples also often opt for healthcare proxies so that they may have rights to see each other in the event of a medical accident. Although these arrangements may help, many older gay and lesbian couples may not know that they are needed until it is too late.

Without these documents, state law dictates who will get to inherit the property and finances of a deceased person. This can lead to bitter and drawn-out court disputes between partners and biological families.

Pennsylvania inheritance tax law can be confusing, especially if you are faced with special considerations or situations. Federal laws can also come into play and further complicate the situation.

If you and your partner are looking to prepare your finances for the future, an inheritance lawyer can help.

Contacting a Pennsylvania Inheritance Lawyer

If you have questions about Pennsylvania inheritance tax laws regarding same-sex couples, contact an inheritance lawyer today for assistance – 1-610-933-8069.


David M. Frees, III
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Attorney, Speaker and Author