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Financial Planning and Marriage Equality

by John Lake, LGBT Segment Manager at Wells Fargo
Sunday Sep 18, 2016

It's been one year since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage for same-sex couples in all 50 states. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, this was a joyful milestone.

It was also a reminder that marriage is a big step, with financial implications for any couple and an opportunity for financial institutions to discover how the new landscape might affect LGBT customers. In a new Wells Fargo study, we set out to learn how LGBT Americans are adapting to the ruling and how it affects their outlook on finances and life.

On a personal level, my husband Chris and I are one of the many same-sex American couples who got married in the past year, and I was curious to see whether our experience was similar to other newly married couples.
According to the study, nearly 90 percent of married same-sex couples say that marriage equality has improved the lives of LGBT Americans and 65 percent say it has made their own lives better.

That certainly rings true for me. For most of my life, I never expected that I would ever have the same legal recognition of my relationship as my parents, who have been married for 54 years. As partners for 18 years, Chris and I were committed to each other, but we were still strangers in the eyes of the law in many ways.

I remember proposing to Chris over dinner at our favorite restaurant. Even after 18 years together, my hands were shaking and my voice trembling... I was so nervous. I asked the question that for so long I had thought was only possible for other couples, and through tears, he said, "Yes."

Chris and I are not alone in the joy we felt to be engaged and now married. A year after the ruling, the study shows more than half of LGBT couples are still "pinching themselves," not quite believing that marriage equality is a reality.

Addressing Financial Needs

On average, same-sex couples have been together for 12 years before tying the knot. Newly wedded customers who marry after 12 years together may have much different financial needs than younger newlyweds with fewer assets.

While the ruling prompted LGBT couples to learn more about the rights and benefits of marriage, just one third of those surveyed reported having a full understanding of the financial benefits or potential downsides of the decision. Of those who have married, many continue to hold assets separately, with substantial numbers not yet making adjustments to important legal or estate-planning documents.

Many Americans in same-sex marriages also expressed a desire to become parents, with almost one in five planning to have children, including 47 percent of married millennials. However, realistic concerns over family planning decisions were shared by a majority of respondents. More than two thirds, worry over the costs of paying for medical and legal expenses associated with conceiving or adopting a child, as well as the cost of paying for their education.

Among those respondents who do not have children, almost half say it is important for them to be involved in the lives of other peoples' children by providing financial support or financial gifts. For Chris and I, involvement in the lives of our nieces and nephew is a priority, and we relish our unique role as "Guncles" to these wonderful kids as they grow into young adults.

I stand proudly with the more than 90 percent of married same-sex couples who say they wed the "love of their life." As we build our life together as a married couple, Chris and I recognize the importance of getting the financial part right to achieve our life goals together.

John Lake is currently Vice President and LGBT Segment Manager on the Wells Fargo Enterprise Marketing Segments and Strategy team. In that role, he guides the company's national LGBT marketing strategy across multiple lines of business. Prior to joining Wells Fargo he served for eight years as Corporate Development Director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America's largest LGBT advocacy organization.

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