Benefits for Same Sex Couples – Update

December 3, 2014

The Social Security Administration has issued final policy decisions for processing claims involving non-marital relationships such as civil unions, domestic partnerships or reciprocal beneficiary relationships.  As of August 2014, the major policy decisions regarding same-sex couples are:

1.  Spouses of Retired Workers.  SSA is processing claims for spouses of retired workers if the couple is married and currently domiciled in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages.

2.  Surviving Spouses.  SSA has authorized the processing and payment of some surviving spouse and lump sum death payment claims for same-sex married couples.  The policy on surviving spouses benefits and the lump sum death payment take a similar approach as the previous instructions for retired workers (meaning the couple was married and at the time of the wage-earner’s dean, he or she was domiciled in a sate that recognized same-sex marriage).  SSA is required to look to the law where the insured worker lived at the time of death.

3.  Non-marital legal relationships such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.  SSA will consider the claimant to be the number holder’s spouse if the sate of the number holder’s domicile would allow the claimant to inherit a spouse’s share of the number holder’s personal property if the number holder died without leaving a will.  Under these circumstances, we will treat the couple’s relationship as a marital relationship.

Claims representatives at the SSA will review pending claims and appeals that were based upon an allegation of non-marital legal relationship.  To be “married” for eligibility purposes, SSA must determine if the non-marital legal relationship was valid in the place it was established and it qualifies as a marital relationship using the laws of the number holder’s domicile.


SSA is urging anyone who is a potential beneficiary to apply now.  If a policy not yet been determined for certain situations, claims will be held and processed after SSA issues further instructions.  It is expected that SSA will issue further policy when the U.S. Supreme Court decides the underlying constitutional issue.


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