More Same-Sex Couples May be Eligible For Social Security Survivor Benefits

Nov 8, 2021 / By Elaine Floyd, CFP®

The Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have dropped two Trump-era appeals that attempted to deny survivor benefits in cases where couples were either not permitted to marry or not legally married the required nine months even though they had been together for decades. This opens the door to survivor benefits for many people who thought they would be denied such benefits due to SSA’s strict interpretation of its marriage requirements.

In September 2018, Helen Thornton filed a lawsuit against SSA when she was denied survivor benefits following the death of her partner in 2006, before same-sex couples in the state of Washington were allowed to marry. They had been together 27 years. Two years later, in September 2020, a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional SSA’s denial of survivor benefits in cases where same-sex couples were barred from marrying due to discriminatory state marriage bans. But benefits have been in limbo because the Social Security Administration and the Justice Department under President Trump appealed the ruling.

On November 1, 2021, those appeals were dropped. SSA is now processing survivor benefit claims for ALL surviving same-sex partners and spouses who were barred from marriage, regardless of whether they had applied for those benefits at any point in the past.

Lambda Legal, the law firm representing the two plaintiffs, has information and FAQs to help survivors of same-sex partnerships claim their benefits.

Also see this article in the New York Times.

As director of retirement and life planning for Horsesmouth, Elaine Floyd helps advisors better serve their clients by understanding the practical and technical aspects of retirement income planning. A former wirehouse broker, she earned her CFP designation in 1986.


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