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A lesbian pairWhen conventional married couples go through divorce or the death of one of the spouses, it can be complicated to sort out the financial and tax issues. Unmarried couples, that is, those in a domestic partnership, sometimes do not enjoy many of the protections given to married couples, so dealing with financial and tax issues is even more uncertain. A person equipped with a designation as an Accredited Domestic Partnership Advisor (ADPA) has specialized training to help unmarried partners, such as LGBTQ couples, ensure that the interests of both partners are protected in the event the partnership ends in death or divorce. One of the best ways to preempt problems related to a domestic partnership ending is also to consult a financial advisor.

Taxes, retirement, wealth transfer and similar concerns are much different when people are part of non-traditional partnerships. For instance, while today federal law protects married same-sex couples in many ways, unions of unmarried partners are governed by laws vary significantly by state. Some states treat unmarried same-sex partners just like married spouses, while others grant them no rights at all.

Also, state laws may require domestic partners to file joint tax returns, for instance, which can push a couple into a higher tax bracket. And federal law provides domestic partners with no rights to a deceased partner’s Social Security benefits or other benefits that he or she would be entitled to if married.

ADPA Issuing Body

The ADPA was begun in 2010 by the College for Financial Planning (CFP), which is now part of Kaplan Financial. It was then relaunched in the fall of 2021. The college says its ADPA certification is the “only designation of its kind and features up-to-date content regarding the distinct planning differences for domestic partners compared to legally married couples.”

The College for Financial Planning also oversees a number of other wealth management and financial planning certificate programs. The most widely recognized and popular is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certificate. Many of those who receive ADPA certificates already have designations as CFPs.

ADPA Certification Requirements

Two men in a car

In order to apply for an ADPA, applicants have to already have a preexisting certification as a financial professional. The list of acceptable prerequisites includes the CFP, Certified Public Accountant, Chartered Financial Analyst, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor, Accredited Wealth Management Advisor and several more.

Applicants also have to complete a course of study. The curriculum, which is presented online, teaches students how domestic partners can approach taxes, retirement planning, investing, estate planning, health insurance, debts, child custody, partner benefits, behavioral finance and more.

According to its website, the college charges $1,300 for the training, a fee that includes practice exams and various instructional documents. The course can be taken with live online classes or on-demand classes. Students have 120 days from the time they receive study materials to complete the program and pass a final exam. Extensions of up to 60 days are available for a fee. A passing score on the final exam, which is 50 questions, is 70%.

In addition to completing the coursework and passing the final exam, ADPA hopefuls have to agree to follow a code of ethics.

Every two years after receiving the certificate, they have to complete 16 hours of continuing education. The College for Financial Planning charges a $95 fee to renew designations for two years.

ADPA Certificate Holder Jobs

ADPA certificate holders are usually already working in financial services. They may be financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, wealth planners, bank trust officers or retirement advisors. Often, they hold more advanced licenses as attorneys, accountants or other advisors.

The ADPA certificate is an optional designation that does not give holders any special powers or privileges. It’s considered a mid-level certificate, suitable for people who are past the beginnings of their careers as financial advisors and looking to make themselves more marketable and knowledgeable.

Comparable Certifications

There aren’t any other certifications that, like the ADPA, focus specifically on the financial advice needs of unmarried couples. However, there are some designations for financial advisors who specialize in advising conventional married couples.

Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) is awarded by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts to people who have bachelor’s degree, three years of work experience and complete a course of study and pass an exam. The CDFA courses and exam cost $1,530 and require approximately 80 to 100 hours of study.

Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist (CFDS) is a Canadian certificate offered by the Academy of Divorce Financial specialists to people who have a preexisting financial planning designation, pay $1,000, complete a three-day educational curriculum, pass a set of tests and prepare a case study.

Bottom Line

hands forming sign of a heartUnmarried couples face special obstacles when planning for taxes, wealth transfer, healthcare and other issues also familiar to conventional couples. The state laws that govern what happens when domestic partners experience divorce or death of one of the partners vary widely. An advisor with an ADPA certificate has gotten special training focused on the needs of domestic partners.

Tips for Same-Sex Couples

  • Couples who are trying to prepare for future taxes, wealth transfer and related issues can get expert help navigating these matters from an experienced financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Here are a few financial items that gay and lesbian newlyweds might want to add somewhere on their to-do list.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/Drazen_, ©iStock.com/Urupong

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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