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Same-Sex Marriages: The Fight Over Sarah Ellyn Farley's Estate

Whether or not a couple’s marriage is considered valid can have a large effect on the distribution of his or her estate in any jurisdiction, including New York. While same-sex marriage is not allowed in the state, all state agencies are required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

However, not all states view same-sex marriages that were legally performed elsewhere as valid. Jennifer Tobits, a Chicago resident, is currently caught in a legal battle in Pennsylvania’s federal court with the parents of her late wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley. Since Farley’s death in September, The ABA Journal reported both parties have been disputing who will receive the proceeds from Farley’s profit-sharing account.

The case raises the question of whether a marriage that is legal in one jurisdiction should also be recognized as valid in another jurisdiction that prohibits same-sex marriage. Farley's parents claimed they were entitled to receive the money because she executed a beneficiary designation form in their favor prior to her death. The law firm, however, said the paperwork was missing at least one necessary signature.

Tobits contended that she had the rights to getting the proceeds from Farley's account because they were legally married in Toronto in 2006. Yet Farley's parents argued that their marriage was considered invalid under Illinois and Pennsylvania law, because both states prohibited same-sex marriage. This meant Farley had no surviving legal spouse, which supposedly made them legally entitled to her financial account as their daughter's surviving and immediate kin.

To learn about how New York family and marriage laws may affect your estate, talk to a New York estate planning attorney who can offer you proper legal counsel. For general information, visit the Related Resources links.

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