The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (known as DOMA) is unconstitutional. This issue certainly isn’t settled and is going to go to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may or may not agree, but one thing I know is that it’s going to take some time. That’s why, if DOMA affects your taxes, you might need to act now.
If you are a gay married couple, you haven’t been allowed to file a joint federal tax return because of DOMA. If DOMA is overturned—then you can. And, if DOMA is overturned—you can go back and amend old tax returns as far as three years. You can amend a tax return from 2009 up until April 15, 2013. After that, any refund you might qualify for is lost.
Here’s the catch—the Supreme Court might not hear the case for at least another year so you’d lose out on some of your refund money just because of timing. But there’s a way to protect your interests now so that if the Supreme Court rules your way, you won’t lose out because of the timeline.
Sorry, but I’m going to get really tax geeky here. If this applies to you, you might want a tax professional’s help. Bottom line—if you would have benefitted tax wise from filing your return as “married filing jointly” then stick with me, it’s important.
You want to file amended tax returns for the tax years you were married with a “protective claim for refund”. Basically, a protective claim for refund means that your right to the refund is contingent on future events. In this case, you won’t have the right to claim your tax refund until the Supreme Court issues a decision on DOMA. For your 2009 tax return, your right to claim that refund could expire before the Supreme Court makes its decision.
Basically, a protective claim is going to preserve your right to claim your refund even if the tax deadline has expired. So if the Supreme Court makes its ruling after April 15, 2013–if you’ve filed a protective claim then you still have a right to your refund even though the statute of limitations for that refund has expired.
When you file your 1040x, you’re going to want to say in the explanation box that you are filing a “Protective claim for refund, contingent upon the US Supreme Court decision on the First Circuit Court of Appeals case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, Gill v OPM.”
Generally, the IRS won’t do anything on your protective claim until the contingency is resolved—in this case, when the Supreme Court actually makes its ruling.
You will mail your 1040X with the protective claim for refund to the same address that you mail a normal 1040X. It varies depending upon the state you live in, but it will be in the form instructions.
Definitely use certified mail, return receipt requested when you send your amendment in. That’s your back up that you filed.
There aren’t that many people who will qualify to file these protective claims for refund returns. I’m in Missouri, we don’t recognize gay marriage. Illinois, next door just recognized it last year so there wouldn’t be any 2009 tax returns for gay couples. And for some couples, filing jointly doesn’t really reduce their tax burden anyway so it won’t make a difference. But if this could help you, then you need to know about it.
If you’d like to read the full case Gill v OPM, here’s a link: http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=10-2204P.01A
One of the points it specifically references is federal income tax returns.