Roughly 4 million widows and widowers receive survivor’s benefits from their spouse’s payments into Social Security, according to SSA.gov. In the past, LGBTQ+ couples had been denied these benefits because same-sex marriages weren’t recognized as legal in all 50 states. However, eligibility for survivor’s benefits could also be proven through shared loans or the names on a mutual child’s birth certificate. Even so, the Social Security Administration often denied these claims.
The History of LGBTQ+ Survivor Benefits
Even when same-sex marriage was legalized across the U.S., the Social Security Administration was still denying some of these claims, according to BusinessInsider.com. In 2018, law firm Lambda Legal represented an LGBTQ+ widow and widower in two separate Supreme Court cases to secure the Social Security survivor’s benefits they deserved. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the survivors, but then-president Donald Trump appealed the ruling, BusinessInsider.com reported.
In February 2022, the Biden Administration removed the appeals. Survivor benefits finally became available to LGBTQ+ couples.
Who Qualifies for Survivor Benefits?
You may be eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits if your spouse earned enough Social Security credits by paying taxes when they worked. Employees or contractors earn one credit for every $1,510 of wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits per year. If you have at least 40 credits, roughly 10 years of work, your spouse can qualify for Social Security Survivor benefits. However, depending on your spouse’s age, you may qualify if your spouse has just six credits in the three years prior to their death.
If you are a widow or widower, you can qualify for Survivor benefits at the age of 60. If you also have a disability, you can qualify as early as age 50. And if you have children under 16 you are caring for, or a child of any age with a disability, you can qualify for survivor benefits at any age as long as you don’t remarry. If you remarry after the age of 60, you can continue receiving Survivor benefits.
How to Access Social Security Survivor Benefits – Even If You’ve Been Denied Before
You can schedule an appointment to apply for surviving spouse benefits by calling 1-800-772-1213, according to SSA.gov. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, you may even receive back benefits if your application was previously denied because same-sex marriage was not recognized in your state.
Whether you are re-applying, appealing a claim or applying for the first time, you may have to bring documentation showing that you were married at the time of your spouse’s death, BusinessInsider.com reports.
BusinessInsider.com mentions using the Social Security emergency message codes EM 21007 SEN REV code 529 or EM-20046 SEN REV 2 when you call to expedite the application or appeal process.
What Constitutes Proof of Partnership?
If same-sex marriage was illegal at the time of your partner’s death, you may still qualify for benefits. You will need to show proof that you were living as partners, and would have been married if you could have. According to BusinessInsider.com, forms of proof may include:
- Paperwork showing a commitment ceremony
- Registration as domestic partners in your city, state, or through your employer
- Family photographs
- Shared financial documents such as car loans, insurance paperwork, mortgages, titles, or leases
- Proof of shared finances, such as bills or bank accounts
- Birth certificates of children showing both partners listed as legal parents
- Adoption certificates showing proof you adopted a child together