Same-Sex Marriage – How Much Has Changed from a Financial Planning Perspective?
Amie Fox CFP®, ChFC, CLTC, is a Partner, Financial Planner and member of Skylight’s LGBT Resource Team
The 2015 Supreme Court’s landmark ruling granting same-sex couples the constitutional right to marry was a day of jubilation for the LGBT community. It was a decision that was years in the making and afforded LGBT couples the same rights, benefits, and protections as heterosexual couples. Many in the financial planning world, suggested an end to the need for LGBT specialist financial advice. The thinking being that the ruling created a level playing field for income taxes, estate planning and spousal benefits (like social security) deeming the financial planning needs of LGBT couples equivalent to their heterosexual counterparts.
That was three years ago, almost to the day. So, what changes have I seen in my financial planning practice?
It would be true to say that for my LGBT clients who have since entered legally recognized marriages (who incidentally tell me they still want advice from an LGBT specialist), their financial lives have been somewhat simplified. It’s undoubtedly easier for them to file tax returns and sort their insurance coverage. When it comes to estate planning, however, little has changed. There is definitely the potential for the estate planning process to be easier but the vast majority of my clients have opted to cover all eventualities and go through the same rigors and documentation as was required before same-sex marriages, and before DOMA was overturned. This is largely due to their desire to protect themselves from unsupportive family members (typically from the wider family) and/or out of concern that the law will be repealed.
Lagging When it Comes to Comfortableness in Approaching and Working with Financial Planners
I have also found that despite all the progress that has been made, LGBT individuals and couples are still lagging when it comes to their comfortableness in approaching and working with financial planners. They recognize that they need financial help but don’t know where to turn. In a world where social inequality is still a big issue, they are fearful of being judged and not accepted for who they are. Some believe our industry, rightly or wrongly, is still often perceived to be a “boys’ club” dominated by male, white conservatives and this holds many back.
For those that do seek out a planner, typically they ask for recommendations from their friends. Many hit a brick wall as most of their LGBT friends have never used a financial planner, tell stories of financial planners who made them feel uncomfortable about who they were or simply didn’t possess the know-how to accommodate their needs. Without a recommendation, they sometimes progress to an online search for reputable “LGBT-friendly” planners. Seems like a lot of work – and some stop after they ask others and get nowhere. Unfortunately, for those who find a financial planner on the web, it is my experience that one of the partners comes to the first meeting on their own to check out if it’s a safe space before involving their partner. It’s worrying to see that this extra level of fear still exists and holds back so many in the community. When you come into my office I need you to be exactly who you are so I can best help you and those you care about. On the positive side, my firm and other LGBT-friendly firms are welcoming, supportive and understand the sometimes subtle but meaningful differences in the lives of our clients that need to be taken into consideration.
An Increase in LGBT People in Their 50s Looking for Financial Advice
I have seen an increase in LGBT people in their 50s approaching me for advice. With more couples marrying later in life, they are looking to combine their assets and want the advice of a LGBT-friendly planner to help them prepare for their financial future together. Particularly they want help navigating the difficult questions and challenges they face. For example, for years while they may have been emotionally connected, they haven’t been financially connected and this is a big change for them. It’s also quite typical that one person out of the couple is divorced and may have children from a previous life which presents significant considerations and adds a layer of complexity to their planning. In addition to couples, I am seeing more LGBT people in their 50s who aren’t married seeking my help. By the time they reach 50, they become more conscious of the clock ticking and are concerned about their lack of financial preparedness. They come to me to see if there is any wiggle room to improve their financial outlook, while still being able to spend as they wish. Their top priority is nearly always figuring out what they need to do to help prepare for their imminent retirement years and reducing debt.
Young LGBT Notable in their Absence
What is notable, in its absence, is the number of young LGBT people I see in my practice, a trend I also see in the heterosexual population, but which is more marked in the LGBT community. I believe that this is largely fueled by a misconception that, to work with a financial planner, you need to have lots of money to invest from the beginning. However, financial planning addresses all needs and concerns. It helps you to create your roadmap toward your financial success – and we all start from scratch at some point. Some of my most active clients today started with me 15 years ago by saving $50 per month.
So, three years in and I can honestly say that, based on my experience, the financial planning landscape has not significantly changed for the LGBT community in which I serve. I feel there is still work to be done. We need to do more to support the LGBT community and help to break down barriers so that fear is no longer a driving force when it comes to financial planning. I would advise anyone seeking financial advice to take time to carefully work out their criteria to help ensure their chosen financial planner is a good match. I have seen the benefits and joy that financial planning has brought to my LGBT clients. It is worth taking that leap and hopefully, with the right financial planner and tools, we will see more LGBT people reaching their life and financial goals.
Amie Fox joined the financial services industry in 2001 and serves as a financial planner and senior partner with Skylight Financial Group in its Cleveland office. Amie is a member of Skylight’s LGBT Resource Team. She provides gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered clients with the proper tools and resources to fit each individual’s or couple’s unique planning needs.
Amie L. Fox is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory, and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC. OSJ: 2012 W. 25th Street, Suite 900, Cleveland, OH 44113. 216-621-5680. CRN202006-233057