Twin Cities readers may recall a previous post in this blog discussing whether Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act forbids recognizing a same-sex spouse as the legal heir of a deceased partner. The issue arose after a Minneapolis man's spouse of 25 years died unexpectedly without a will. The couple had married in California, but Minnesota law seemed to dictate that the deceased man's assets should go to his parents rather than his husband.
A recent decision by the Hennepin County District Court held that Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act does not exclude same-sex spouses as legal heirs to their partners' estates. The judge considered the legislative history of the Defense of Marriage Act and paid particular attention to the fact that language that would have deprived same-sex couples of the "benefits of marriage" was removed prior to passage of the legislation.
According to the judge's written opinion, the removal of the "benefits of marriage" language represented a legislative compromise that has very real implications for the impact of the law. While the Defense of Marriage Act may deny same-sex couples the contractual rights that come with marriage, the "benefits" of marriage could include a range of common law interests such as inheritance rights, the privilege of spousal confidence and entitlement to employment-related benefits.
For the Minneapolis man, the court's decision clears the way for him to inherit the assets of his long-time partner and fulfills the wishes of his deceased husband. Even the parents of the deceased man acknowledge the surviving husband's entitlement to the marital assets. If the district court's ruling stands, it may reach beyond this particular case and set important precedent that could deter future will contests involving the estates of same-sex couples.
Source: Star Tribune, "Hennepin County court rules same-sex partner can inherit assets," Abby Simons, Aug. 1, 2012