On June 24, the New York State Senate gave its approval to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in a dramatic late night session. Having already passed the Assembly, the bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo at midnight. New York is now the sixth –and largest– jurisdiction to enact a same-sex marriage act. The legal implications of this new legislation will soon be felt across the state.
While it should be noted that New York law is gender-neuter (we do not refer to a particular sex, using various adjectives to describe the status of one spouse or anotherr), the expected bumper crop of same-sex marriages will instantly confer the status of being a distributee on folks whose only way to inherit from a deceased partner would formerly have been to be a legatee receiving a bequest under a will. Intestate same-sex spouses will pass their assets to their partners (and children if the couple has them) rather than to brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Their surviving spouses will have standing to object to the probate of wills and to exercise the spousal right of election when omitted from a will or when one feels "short-changed". Trusts and various other non-testamentary devices will be employed by those not wanting their assets to be passed along to a same-sex spouse. Wills will have to be revised by people who feel that their testamentary scheme has been unacceptably altered by the new law.
For sure, there will be a host of unforeseen legal issues created by this new law. If nothing else, this will be a new "Attorneys, Accountants and Estate Planners Relief Act" which will keep a new generation of lawyers busy for years to come.