What You Need to Know
- Advisors and clients may not know about the change, made in November when the SSA dropped Trump-era appeals to two lawsuits.
- The decision could affect thousands who can prove they were in a committed relationship prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
- Survivors may not only get monthly benefits, but retroactive payments as well.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states, and have that decision recognized by the states, also allowed same-sex married couples to receive Social Security spousal benefits after being married for nine months.
But what about those who had been in a long-term committed relationship that wasn’t recognized under federal law, and whose spouse died prior to 2015? Did they have any legal recourse to get survivor benefits through Social Security?
In November, the Social Security Administration dropped Trump-era appeals to two lawsuits — Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security and Ely v. Saul — that sought survivors’ benefits that would pre-date the 2015 law change, according to an article in The New York Times.
As a result, same-sex couples who can show they were committed — or legally married in states that allowed it prior to the 2015 Supreme Court decision — can receive Social Security survivors’ benefits, including retroactive payments. Survivors who were married less than nine months before their partner’s death can also receive benefits.
Proof of commitment can be provided through joint bank accounts, leases, mortgages, insurance policies or wills that name a partner as a beneficiary or heir, according to the Times article.
“SSA largely follows state law with regard to who is married,” Nancy J. Altman, president of Social Security Works, told ThinkAdvisor in an email, adding this was an “extremely important” subject.