Widow Files Suit Seeking Equal Treatment Under PA Inheritance Tax Law

Barbara (left) and Cathy at a 2008 demonstration outside Lehigh Co. Courthouse. Photo courtesy of Express-Times.

Barbara (left) and Cathy at a 2008 demonstration outside Lehigh Co. Courthouse. Photo courtesy of Express-Times.

Since the repeal of DOMA this summer, Pennsylvania has been bombarded with a number of lawsuits challenging its stance on same-sex marriage, and the cases keep coming. The latest shines light on a completely different marriage issue in PA — one that helped bring down DOMA in the first place. (Thank you, Edie Windsor.) It concerns a Bethlehem widow named Barbara Baus, who is suing the state to gain equal treatment under Pennsylvania’s narrow-minded Inheritance Tax Law.

Barbara and her partner, Cathy Burgi-Rios, were married in Connecticut in the spring of 2011 after being together for 15 years. Sadly, it was just over a year later, on Sept. 21, 2012, when Cathy passed away after a year-long battle with leukemia. Like most long-term couples, they owned a home and cars together. They had joint bank accounts. Cathy even named Barbara executor and sole beneficiary of all her assets in her will. But when Cathy passed away the state saw her inheritance more as a lottery win than a loving allotment from a deceased partner.

When Barbara filed the mandatory Inheritance Tax Return, she indicated that she was Cathy’s wife, rightfully claiming the spousal tax rate of zero. A time later, she received a response saying that her marriage was “not valid in Pennsylvania” and that she owed 15 percent on the inheritance she received — the highest rate of inheritance tax charged in the Commonwealth.

Now Barbara is fighting back, filing a petition with the Orphan’s Court of Northampton that challenges the taxes Pennsylvania is seeking, and claims that Pennsylvania’s Defendant of Marriage Act violates the Uniformity Clause of the PA constitution, which states that “all taxes in Pennsylvania must be assessed upon the same classes in a uniform fashion.”

For now, according to Lehigh Valley Live, a judge has granted a motion barring the registrar of wills Gina Gibbs from enforcing the tax until the larger issue is settled. Stay tuned to G Philly for updates.