Does a Common Law Marriage Make Benefits Available?

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Jul 1 2016 - 10:30am

I have a niece to whom I will be giving your updated book as she and her common law husband of 20+ years are approaching retirement age, and they really really need to read it (I already upgraded!). My question, on their behalf, is whether Social Security recognizes their union as "spousal." I know nothing of their finances but am concerned that by them not having that marriage certificate, they may be in for a rude awakening in the not-too-distant future should something happen to one of them, either through disability or death. Thanks very much for the updated book as well as your continued advice here! Thanks, Katy

Katy, if they are not legally married, they cannot receive any benefits — spousal, widow(er)'s, divorced spousal, divorced widow(er)'s — based on each other's records. They'll need to be married a year before they can begin receive a benefit based on the other's record. Thanks, John