Social Security begins paying survivor benefits to same-sex married couples

Spouses must have been married nine months, except under certain conditions

By Mary Beth Franklin

Dec 16, 2013 @ 6:06 pm (Updated 6:36 pm) EST

The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it has begun processing claims for surviving members of same-sex marriages and paying benefits where they are due.

To be eligible for a survivor benefit, which is worth 100% of what the deceased worker was collecting or was entitled to collect at the time of his or her death, the spouse must have been married to the worker for at least nine months at the time of death, unless one of the exceptions is met. Some of the exceptions include the worker's death was accidental or the worker's death occurred in the line of duty as an actively serving member of a uniformed service.

This is the latest step toward providing equal Social Security benefits to same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26.

“We ask for continued patience from the public as we work closely with the Department of Justice to develop policies that are legally sound so we can process claims,” Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

At the moment, the Social Security Administration can only pay benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married and who reside in a state that recognizes their marriage. However, Ms. Colvin urged anyone who believes they may be eligible for Social Security benefits “to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”

In addition to the survivor benefits, Ms. Colvin said the agency has also issued one-time, lump-sum death benefits to surviving same-sex spouses.

A lump-sum death benefit of $255 is payable upon the death of a person who had worked long enough to be insured under Social Security. The benefit is payable to a surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased parent's record at the time of death.

If no spouse or child meeting these requirements exists, the lump-sum death payment will not be paid. The lump-sum death payment cannot be paid to funeral homes or estates for funeral expenses.

The Social Security Administration says it does not yet have an estimate of how many same-sex couples have applied for spousal or survivor benefits since the Supreme Court decision last June.