Social Security opens door to survivor benefits for same-sex couples who couldn’t marry | Smart Change: Personal Finances

(Christy Biber)

Social Security survivor benefits are one of the most valuable types of income provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These benefits are intended to ensure that a surviving spouse does not face financial disaster when a higher earning partner dies.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans have been unable to access survivor benefits because they have been barred for many years from entering into a legal marriage with the partner of their choice. This is the situation many older LGBTQ people face, as same-sex marriage was only legalized when it was too late for them.

The good news is that the SSA has now opened the door to providing survivor benefits to certain widowed partners who have been denied full marriage rights. Here’s what you need to know about this new process.

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Generally, to qualify for Social Security survivor benefits, you must have been married at the time of your partner’s death and for at least nine months prior. Or you must have been married for at least 10 years before divorcing and not remarried until age 60 (or age 50 if disabled).

Tragically, many same-sex partners were unable to marry despite having spent their lives in committed relationships – and therefore were not eligible for survivor benefits. Some people who had been disenfranchised have taken steps to change this Social Security rule, and they have succeeded.

Two class action lawsuits have been filed by those who lost their same-sex partners before they could legally marry. Cases, Thorton vs. Social Security Commissioner and Ely versus Saulboth have successfully challenged the current rules and argued that survivor benefits should extend to those who are denied the right to marry their partner.

While the Trump administration was appealing the results of both class action lawsuits, the Social Security Administration dropped both appeals in November due to a policy change under the Biden administration.

As a result, the Social Security Administration now allows same-sex partners to receive Social Security survivor benefits, even if they were unmarried or had been married for less than the required nine months. . These benefits are available provided the claimant is able to prove that they were in a relationship with a deceased same-sex partner. This proof can take the form of a shared house; a commitment ceremony; joint bank accounts, mortgages or leases; or even pictures and letters.

Applying for survivor benefits can be an important source of income for seniors

Survivor benefits often provide a much higher income for seniors if their partner was the higher earner. They may also become available earlier than Social Security retirement benefits – as early as age 50 for disabled spouses and at an even younger age when caring for a partner’s minor child. deceased.

The fact that same-sex partners will now be able to access these benefits could be a huge financial boon. If you fall into this category and have been denied the legal right to marry, it is essential that you understand your new rights and ensure that you claim the benefits you are owed by presenting proof of your partnership to the Social Security Administration.

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