The Supreme Court of the United States made history last summer when it ruled that the definition of marriage under federal law was unconstitutional. Not surprisingly, this momentous decision left officials with the Department of Justice very busy, as they suddenly had to review existing policies and procedures at the nation's many federal agencies and make the necessary amendments to ensure compliance with SCOTUS' decision.
Specifically, DOJ officials had to ensure that all agencies recognized that two people of the same sex are treated as married under federal law if their marriage was legally sanctioned in a state/jurisdiction that has chosen to recognize such unions.
While this lengthy process has actually proceeded relatively smoothly, problems have arisen with the Social Security Administration, where regulations expressly state that the definition of marriage is dependent upon the state in which a person happens to reside, not where they were originally married.
To illustrate, a same-sex couple may have been legally married in Iowa and moved to Texas, where same-sex marriages are not given legal recognition. Here, SSA regulations would follow Texas law, such that the couple would not be viewed as being married.
This situation is starting to change at the SSA thanks to the efforts of DOJ officials and the agency is now starting to implement the necessary changes to ensure that people in same-sex marriages receive the benefits to which they are otherwise entitled.
For instance, the SSA recently announced that it is now processing benefits for the surviving spouses of same-sex marriages. In general, these so-called widow's benefits are payable to 1) those who were legally married to their partner at the time of his or her death or 2) those who were legally married for a minimum of ten years but eventually divorced.
Regardless of whether a person is in a same-sex or heterosexual marriage, they should be aware of a few things regarding these widow's benefits:
- The maximum amount received is the amount their deceased spouse was receiving or would have received at the time of their death.
- In order to be eligible for widow's benefits, a person must be at least 60 (50 if they are disabled).
- If the recipient of widow's benefits has not yet reached the full retirement age of 66, the amount received will be reduced.
Stay tuned for more news about updates to SSA policies ...
If you believe that you have been wrongly denied SSD benefits or would like to learn more about SSI benefits, consider speaking with an experienced attorney dedicated to securing the assistance you need and deserve.
Source: Fox Business, "Social Security begins paying same-sex couple claims," Gail Buckner, Dec. 16, 2013