The Chicago Family Law Blog

Benefits of Gay Marriage: Lesbian Widow Battles In-Laws

The benefits of gay marriage were brought up in a complicated series of lawsuits over a deceased law partner’s profit sharing benefits.

Sarah Farley was a partner at the law firm Cozen O’Connor’s Chicago office when she died, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. Farley left behind $40,820 in the firm’s profit-sharing plan at death and her lesbian wife, Jennifer Tobits, and her parents are now battling it out over who will receive the benefits.

Tobits has sued the firm as well as Farley's parents. Farley's parents filed a counterclaim. And Cozen O'Connor has sued both parties asking a federal court judge to sort out the mess. So how did a profit-sharing plan lead to three lawsuits?

Farley's parents claim they are the beneficiaries of the profit-sharing money as they provided a death benefits form naming them as beneficiaries, reports the Daily News. However, Cozen O'Connor and Tobits claim that the form they provided is inadequate as it lacks Farley's signature.

In the absence of a named beneficiary, Cozen O'Connor's policy is to award the profit-sharing money to the deceased partner's spouse, reports the Daily News. So, Tobits claims she is entitled to the money. However, Tobits and Farley were married in Canada before same-sex civil unions were legalized in Illinois, and Farley's parents are arguing that the marriage should not be recognized.

Cozen O'Connor brought a complaint against both Jennifer Tobits and Sarah Farley's parents asking a federal court to untangle the mess and determine who is entitled to the benefits.

So what can we learn about the benefits of gay marriage? Double-check that your beneficiaries are properly designated on any employment benefits plans. You don't want to leave to the law the decision over who will receive your death benefits -- even with civil union laws now in effect.

Related Resources: