Ask Larry: Do Domestic Partners In California Qualify As Married For Social Security Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether and where domestic partners can qualify as married for Social Security benefits, potential effects of selling a home while receiving Social Security disability benefits and ways to increase benefit rates for people who never married. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Do Domestic Partners in California Qualify As Married For Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry, Does being a domestic partner in California count as being “married” for Social Security Benefits like spousal or survivor’s benefits? If so, then how long does the “marriage” need to have been in effect? Must you be a domestic partner to be entitled to get benefits, and how long after a partner’s death can you apply for those benefits? Thanks, Jooyoung

Hi Jooyoung, Whether or not a domestic partnership meets the requirements to be considered as a legal marriage for purposes of Social Security benefits depends on the date and the state in which the domestic partnership was established.


I’m not an expert on all of the various state laws with regard to domestic partnerships, but if your relationship qualifies as a marriage under state law then the duration of marriage requirements for Social Security benefits (i.e. 1 year for spousal benefits, 9 months for widow(er) benefits, or 10 years for divorced spousal benefits) would be the same as they are for traditional marriages. Best, Larry

Will My Sister Lose Her Social Security Disability And Medicaid If She Sells Her Home?

HI Larry, My sister is on Social Security disability because she had a stroke. She needs to sell her home and move here from Missouri so we can take care of her. We eventually will find her a house to buy, but she will net about $93,000 off the house that will be in the bank till we find a house. Will she loose her Social Security disability and Medicaid? Thanks, Sally

Hi Sally, Selling a home wouldn’t affect Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, but if your sister is eligible for Medicaid then it may indicate that she’s receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs based benefit administered by Social Security for people who have little or income and resources and who’re either blind, disabled or at least 65.

If your sister is receiving SSI and if she sells her home and fails to use the proceeds from the sale to purchase a new home within three months, then her SSI payments could stop. I’m not an expert on the Medicaid program, but it is also needs based. However, SSDI and Medicare are not needs based benefits, so if that’s all that your sister receives then her benefits wouldn’t be affected by the sale of a home. Best, Larry

How Can I Get Extra Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’m single and never married. I had to take early benefits at 64 after losing my job unexpectedly. What options are open to me to increase my benefits? Thanks, Gabe

Hi Gabe, If you’ve never married then it narrows your options substantially. There are only two types of benefits that can be paid based on a person’s own earnings, specifically Social Security retirement benefits and Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits.

You don’t mention having a disability, so you probably can’t qualify for any benefits other than the Social Security retirement benefits that you’re apparently already collecting. Once you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits, there are only two ways that you can potentially increase your monthly benefit amount.

One would be by working and earning more than you did in one or more of your previous highest 35 years of wage indexed earnings on which your current benefit amount is based. The other would be to suspend your benefits between your full retirement age (FRA) and age 70 in order to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs).

You don’t mention your current age, but if you’ve already reached 70, it would be too late to suspend your benefits in order to earn DRCs. You still could though increase your benefit rate by earning more in a future year than you did in one of your previous highest 35 years of earnings, regardless of your age at the time you produce the new earnings. Best, Larry

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