When California’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages last month, besides making history, it may have opened doors for some financial advisors in search of a niche. That’s because the tens of thousands of same-sex couples expected to wed in the next three years will require specialized financial advice.
UCLA’s Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation and the Law found that about half of the state’s more than 100,000 same-sex couples will get married during the next three years, and an additional 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel to California to exchange vows. Over that period, same-sex weddings will generate $64 million in tax revenue for the state, $9 million in marriage-license fees for counties and some 2,200 jobs.
Indeed, same-sex couples—married or not—can be great for business, say financial advisors: They are especially rich sources of referrals. Take Mathew Hunnicutt and Andy Frazier, whose Portland, Ore.-based firm Frazier Hunnicutt Financial, specializes in working with same-sex couples and domestic partners. Frazier says they offer referrals “much more rapidly” than other kinds of clients. “In the last year, we’ve doubled the number of same-sex couples we work with,” he says. “We believe the number will dramatically increase over the next few years.”
In fact, Frazier Hunnicutt began working with same-sex couples five years ago, and now these couples account for about 25 percent of the firm’s clients and the firm’s $25 million in assets under management.
To state the obvious, same-sex couples have special financial planning, wealth management, estate planning and spousal benefits issues that have to be addressed, whether they are married or in a domestic partnership.
Two main issues advisors must address are power-of- attorney documents for financial and health-related decisions. In regards to health, an Advance Health Care Directive allows an individual to choose a “health agent” (that person will have the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself), or state specific instructions for your health care.
For same-sex couples, this document is extremely important—even if the couple is married. “A same-sex couple who is married may think they don’t need a health care directive. But just because you’re married in one state doesn’t mean another state will recognize the marriage,” Hunnicutt says. For example, if an accident occurs in a state where the marriage isn’t recognized, the health care directive can fill in for the invalidated marriage certificate.
Financial Power of Attorney works similarly. The “financial agent” has legal authority to make decisions on an individual’s behalf. The amount of power an agent has is stated in the document.
Kay Russell, an advisor with National Planning Corp. in Eugene, Ore., goes one step further when she has her same-sex clients fill out power-of-attorney forms. She says it’s not enough to just fill out the forms. “You should make sure to file the documents with the court, which stamps the document and assures the validity of the claim,” she says.
Save A Dollar—Or Thousands
One of the first things Russell goes over with same-sex couples who have come to her from another advisor is how they are charged by mutual fund companies. “Most of the time, the previous broker hasn’t treated them with their union in mind,” she says. The couple’s investable assets have not been combined in order to get a reduced sales cost on mutual funds.
For example, one couple that came to Russell was invested in the same mutual fund, but the two of them were paying separate rates. One had $450,000 in investable assets and the other had $50,000 in assets. Russell says combining the accounts puts the couple at the $500,000-plus level, and gives them a 2.5-percent annual sales cost rate. (The rate for an investor at the $50,000 to $100,000 was 4 percent.)
“A lot of the time, we don’t have to move the money out of the funds. We just combine the costs and it’s been very beneficial,” she adds. But it won’t fly with all mutual fund families.
Helene Robertson, a financial advisor with National Planning Corp. in Seattle, Wash., says advisors looking to serve this client base would be wise to work with legal experts who can help keep them keep up-to-date on laws regarding same sex couples. “We work with attorneys, and go to estate planning workshops by the Washington State Bar Association, where they discuss state and federal laws dealing with non-traditional couples.”