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Marriage Was Valid for Estate Tax Purposes

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Marriage Was Valid for Estate Tax Purposes

An estate was allowed a marital deduction because the decedent’s marriage was valid in the country of celebration. The decedent, who was Jewish, obtained a religious divorce under rabbinical law in New York from his first wife after a New York court had declared his Mexican divorce invalid, which resulted in the declaration that his marriage to a second wife was null and void. The decedent traveled to Israel and married his third wife in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony. The Israeli marriage certificate noted that the decedent was free to marry because he was divorced. The government claimed that because the divorce was not valid under state law, no marital deduction was allowed because the property did not pass to the decedent’s surviving spouse.

Marriage Was Valid in New York
Under New York law, the marriage was valid since it was recognized in Israel unless it was contrary to public policy or violated “positive law.” Because Code Sec. 2056(a) focuses on the identity of the surviving spouse, the initial question was whether the decedent and the surviving spouse were validly married, and not whether the religious divorce was valid. Under Israeli law, the decedent was validly divorced and could remarry. Thus, for purposes of New York law, the marriage was not bigamous and not contrary to public policy. New York divorce law was not violated by the finding because that law was not broken by a New York resident marrying outside of the state and recognizing a non-New York marriage was not equivalent to ruling on the divorce’s validity. However, the ruling was narrowly focused on whether the New York Court of Appeals would recognize the Israeli marriage, which was not contested by the prior spouse and left undisturbed by the lower courts.