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Marriage may impact Social Security benefits for same-sex couples

Certain federal benefits preceded the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic vote on marriage equality, but getting up to speed on many new federal benefits may take a lot of time. One potentially complex area is Social Security spousal and survivor benefits. Since our law firm provides assistance in the areas of same-sex and family law, retirement and estate planning, we will address several areas where a couple may need to update their affairs.

As a preliminary matter, a same-sex couple that takes advantage of the financial and contractual benefits of marriage should remember that those benefits are generally proactive. In other words, the marital estate is created only at the time of marriage. Couples that acquired assets and lived together for several years before marrying may need to clarify whether that property is jointly owned. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can be executed to bring those holdings up to speed with the law’s prospective definition of their marital estate.

Retirement and estate planning matters may also require updating. For example, a spouse in a same-sex marriage now has access to Social Security retirement and survivor benefits. That’s a sizable benefit. For example, readers may not realize that $100 of monthly Social Security retirement benefits is considered equivalent to $24,000 in savings, assuming a 5 percent withdrawal rate.

A same-sex spouse might also be able to utilize the other spouse’s higher earning record for both disability and retirement benefit calculations. Children of a same-sex marriage may also be eligible to collect Social Security benefits if their parents can no longer provide for them. Our law firm can help same-sex couples bring their affairs up to date.

Source: Bankrate.com, “6 things same-sex couples must do,” Jennie L. Phipps, June 30, 2015

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