Alum Advises LGBTQ+ Families in Tax and Estate Planning

By: Alison Fromme
Photo of Brian Balduzzi standing in front of Sage Hall on Cornell's campus.

When Brian Balduzzi, MBA ’18, was a law student at Boston University, an important case was making its way through the Supreme Court: United States v Windsor. The plaintiff argued that same-sex marriage should be recognized by the federal government, and that, following the death of a partner, the survivor should be able to benefit from the estate tax marital deduction available to opposite sex couples.

The case, and others like it, caught Balduzzi’s attention, and he began intently following developments in legal issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. Now, after earning his MBA from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, he’s combined his expertise in business and law to build his career helping people – including LGBTQ+ couples and families – plan for business and financial transfers from one generation to the next.

“This has been an issue and a passion of mine for many years,” said Balduzzi, private client associate at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and practicing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. One client might want to create a trust that will provide for a grandchild’s college education, for example. Another might be planning for the longevity of a family business.

Memorializing Decisions

Tax and estate issues for LGBTQ+ families can be complex, according to Balduzzi, because related laws were developed for heterosexual couples. When working with clients, he addresses questions like, “What decisions can we memorialize to ensure that you are treated as a couple under the law, and, if one of you dies, the survivor can benefit as much as possible from the decedent’s estate?”

Without documentation of such decisions, the law could treat the couple as legal strangers if one of them were to die. For example, some couples may choose not to marry but still want to ensure that their assets are passed down to their partner and children, who may or may not be biologically related. An estate plan might be challenged by an estranged family member. Inheritance tax laws could affect LGBTQ+ families in unexpected ways. Additionally, a health crisis might make one individual unable to make decisions for themselves, and a hospital might not automatically recognize a couple’s relationship status.

In these examples, preparing legal documentation, considering tax implications, and discussing family goals and legacies can help protect the couple’s wishes.

“Having these conversations is really powerful because, for so long, there haven’t been a lot of options for LBGTQ+ folks,” he said. “These conversations are also powerful for couples who do not identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community because there’s so much more diversity in the family now, with divorce, remarriage, and blended families.”

In addition to working directly with clients, Balduzzi brings these conversations to the broader public. He’s written articles and spoken to students and professionals locally and nationally at financial institutions, law firms, and universities, urging them to consider how to serve LGBTQ+ individuals and couples better and be proactive about new issues that might arise as the law evolves. He also ​​has served on the Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee for the American Bar Association Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law Section and as a board member of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association.

“There are many folks, myself included, who have experienced the death of a family member,” said Balduzzi, who first became aware of the importance of intergenerational planning as a teenager when his father passed away. “And there’s often a lot of knowledge that’s lost either in a family business, or knowing what resources a parent or grandparent has and how they’re managed.”

Academic Excellence and Community at Cornell

Balduzzi had already been practicing as an attorney when he decided to pursue his MBA at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

“Ultimately, I realized that in order to service my clients, I needed to be more well rounded in finance and in business,” he said. “My time at Cornell was a recharge and it was a refresh.”

The professors, the academics, and the community-building all attracted Balduzzi to the program, especially the focus on knowing classmates, identifying how to make a difference, and understanding leadership values.

While at Cornell, Balduzzi was active in LGBTQ+ groups on campus and beyond, serving as vice president of corporate and alumni relations for Out for Business at Cornell Johnson, a Reaching Out MBA conference coordinator for its 2017 Boston conference, and a peer educator of gender and sexuality through the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Cornell. He currently serves as the vice president of the Cornell Pride LGBTQ+ Alumni Association and on the Johnson Recent Alumni Council for the Johnson School.

“How we invest in ourselves is really critical, especially when you’re an underrepresented minority. I’m very thankful for Cornell for taking a chance on me. Coming from the law, given my background, I just didn’t think that I would have a place in business school,” Balduzzi said. “Now, having overcome that, I’m saying to others who might be feeling that way, ‘You can be the first, whether it’s in your family or your community. There is a place for you.’”