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What Same-Sex Couples Need to Know About Social Security

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On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states and have their marriage recognized by other states. Since then, Social Security recognizes same-sex couples’ marriages in all states, and some nonmarital legal relationships (such as some civil unions and domestic partnerships). They also recognize same-sex marriages and some non-marital legal relationships established in foreign jurisdictions for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits, Medicare, and SSI.

Why marital status is important for Social Security benefits

Marital status is important for Social Security’s retirement, survivor, and disability programs. You or your spouse could be eligible for benefits or a higher benefit amount based on a marital relationship. For some surviving spouses, divorced spouses, and adults who developed a disability during childhood, benefits could end if they marry.

What you need to know about Social Security benefits 

Your Social Security taxes pay for three kinds of benefits: retirement, disability, and survivors. If you are eligible for retirement or disability benefits, other members of your family might also receive benefits. If you are married or you entered into a non-marital legal relationship, and you think you might be eligible for benefits, apply right away. You should apply even if you are not sure if you are eligible. Applying now will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits by preserving your filing date. The application date is used  to determine when your benefits may potentially start. 

You can get a quick and easy benefit estimate based on your Social Security earnings record at www.ssa.gov/estimator. You also can find out how to learn, manage, and apply for benefits at www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement. When you are ready to apply for Social Security benefits, you can do so online at www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits

If you already receive Social Security benefits, you must tell Social Security if you marry, enter into a non-marital legal relationship, or divorce, because your marital status may affect your entitlement to benefits. If we stop your benefits because of marriage or remarriage, we may start them again if the marriage ends. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program 

SSI is a federal program that provides monthly payments to people who have limited income and resources. SSI is for people who are 65 or older, and for those of any age, including children, who are blind or have a disability. If you get SSI, the law requires that Social Security looks at your case from time to time to make sure that you should continue receiving SSI and are getting the right amount. They’ll ask you the same kind of questions you answered when you applied for SSI. For example, information about your income, your resources, whether someone moves into or out of your household, and your bank accounts. You should report a change when it happens. 

SSI payments and marital status 

Marital status is considered when determining your eligibility and payment amount for SSI. Therefore, you must report any marriage, separation, divorce, or death that could affect eligibility or payment amount.Your spouse’s income and resources may count to determine your eligibility and SSI payment amount. Social Security pays a married couple where both individuals are eligible for SSI a couple’s benefit amount, which is less than the amount paid to two individuals.

If you change your name 

Whenever you change your name, be sure to report the change. Otherwise, your earnings may not be recorded properly and you may not receive all the benefits you are due. To report a name change, submit a completed Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5) to your local Social Security office or card center. With this, you will also submit proof of identity and proof that you legally changed your name (e.g., a marriage certificate).

*Adapted from Social Security Administration | Publication No. 05-10014 September 2021 |  What Same-Sex Couples Need To Know. For more information, visit www.ssa.gov

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