You asked whether claimant R~ (Claimant), the surviving domestic partner of the number
holder, J~ (NH), is entitled to payment of surviving spouse benefits.
Yes. Claimant and NH entered into a valid domestic partnership in Oregon. Under Hawaii
law, this domestic partnership conferred rights permitting Claimant to inherit intestate
from NH to the same extent as a surviving spouse. Accordingly, the agency deems Claimant
to be the NH’s surviving spouse for purposes of entitlement to surviving spouse benefits.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
On February XX, 2008, Claimant and NH became registered domestic partners in the State
of Oregon, as evidenced by their filed Declaration of Domestic Partnership. Based
on information provided by the H~ D~ Office, the NH and Claimant resided in W~, Hawaii,
since October 2011. The NH died in H~, Hawaii on July XX, 2014, according to a Certificate
of Death issued by the Hawaii Department of Health.
To be entitled to survivor’s benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act),
a claimant must establish that she or he is the widow or widower of an individual
who died fully insured. See Social Security Act §§ 202(e),(f), 216(c)(1),(g)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335. Under Section 216(h)
of the Act, the agency will find a claimant to be the widow or widower of an insured
individual if the courts of the State in which the insured individual resided at the
time of his or her death would find that the claimant was validly married to the insured
individual when the death occurred. Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i). However, even if the claimant was not married
to the insured individual, the agency will deem the claimant to be the insured individual’s
widow or widower if, under the laws of the State where the insured individual had
a permanent home, the claimant would be able to inherit a surviving spouse’s share
of the insured individual’s personal property if he or she died without leaving a
will. Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Under such circumstances,
the agency will treat the couple’s relationship as a marital relationship. See id.
In addition to establishing that she or he is the insured’s widow or widower under
the laws described above, to recover surviving spouse benefits, the claimant must
show that she or he meets one of the following conditions: (1) his or her relationship
to the insured as wife or husband lasted for at least 9 months immediately before
the insured died; (2) his or her relationship to the insured as wife or husband did
not last for at least 9 months but another qualifying condition is satisfied; (3)
he or she and the insured had a child together; or (4) in the month before marrying
the insured, he or she was entitled to or could have been entitled to certain benefits
or payments. See Social Security Act §§ 202(e),(f); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335.
In 2011, the Hawaii Legislature amended the Hawaii Revised Statutes to allow individuals
to enter into civil unions effective January 1, 2012. Haw. Rev. Stat. ch. 542B. To be eligible, the individuals must (1) not already be a partner in another civil
union or a spouse in a marriage; (2) be at least eighteen years old; and (3) not be
related by blood to the other partner. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-2; see also § 572B-3 (listing family relationships where a civil union would be void). Partners
to a civil union in Hawaii receive the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities
as spouses that are married under Hawaii law. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-9.
Furthermore, partners to a civil union have “spouse-like” inheritance rights. A partner
to a civil union is included in the definition or use of the term “spouse” and “other
terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the
laws of the State.” Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-11. Thus, civil union partners inherit
the same as spouses. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 560:2-102 (providing for the inheritance rights of a decedent’s
Hawaii law recognizes non-marital legal unions formed in other jurisdictions and treats
them like civil unions entered into in Hawaii as long as the union (1) satisfies civil
union eligibility requirements under Hawaii law; (2) was validly formed in another
jurisdiction in accordance with its laws; and (3) can be documented. Haw Rev. Stat.
In 2007, the Oregon State Legislature enacted the Oregon Family Fairness Act, allowing
same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships effective February 4, 2008. See 2007 Oregon Laws Ch. 99 (H.B. 2007), §§ 1-9 (codified at Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 106.300-106.340). To enter into a domestic partnership, individuals must file a Declaration of Domestic
Partnership that (1) states each person is at least 18 years old and capable of entering
into a domestic partnership; (2) states at least one of the individuals resides in
Oregon; (3) provides a mailing address; (4) states each individual consents to the
jurisdiction of Oregon courts for any proceeding related to the partners’ rights and
obligations; and (5) indicates each individual’s name after domestic partnership.
Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.325. Both partners must sign and notarize the declaration. Id. Individuals cannot enter into a domestic partnership if either person is married
or in another domestic partnership with a different person, or if the parties are
related by blood as first cousins or closer. Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.315(1).
Claimant and NH entered into an Oregon domestic partnership over six years before
the NH’s death on July XX, 2014. The relationship therefore exceeded the nine-month
duration requirement for surviving spouse benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a)(1); POMS GN 00210.004.
Claimant resided with the NH in Hawaii at the time he died. Accordingly, to determine
Claimant’s entitlement to surviving spouse benefits, the agency will look to Hawaii
law. If, under the laws of Hawaii, Claimant would be able to inherit intestate from
the NH to the same extent as a surviving spouse, then the agency will deem Claimant
to be the NH’s widower. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
Under Hawaii law, since January 1, 2012, partners to a civil union receive the same
rights as married couples, including the right to inherit to the same extent as a
surviving spouse. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-9; Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-11 (providing that a party to a
civil union is included in any definition or use of terms that denote a spousal relationship);
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 560:2-102 (providing for intestate succession for surviving spouses);
see also POMS GN 00210.004 (noting Hawaii civil unions provide for spousal inheritance rights).
Hawaii will recognize a legal union formed in another jurisdiction – and treat it
the same as a Hawaii civil union – as long as the relationship (1) satisfies Hawaii’s
civil union eligibility requirements; (2) was validly formed in another jurisdiction;
and (3) can be documented. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 572B-10. Here, as set forth below, Claimant’s
Oregon domestic partnership satisfies the requirements to be recognized under Hawaii
law, such that Claimant could inherit to the same extent as a surviving spouse if
the NH died intestate.
The Domestic Partnership Satisfied Hawaii’s Civil Union Requirements
Hawaii’s civil union requirements are included in the requirements to enter into a
domestic partnership in Oregon. Therefore, since the Claimant and NH attested to their compliance with Oregon’s requirements
when they entered into their domestic partnership, their relationship similarly satisfied Hawaii’s civil union requirements.
The Domestic Partnership Was Validly Formed Under Oregon Law
Claimant and NH entered into a domestic partnership in Oregon on February XX, 2008,
soon after Oregon’s domestic partnership law became effective. See 2007 Oregon Laws Ch. 99 (H.B. 2007), §§ 1-9. As required under Oregon law, they filed
a signed and notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership, and a County Clerk thereafter
signed the form and registered the partnership. See Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.325. Therefore, the couple entered into a valid domestic partnership
under Oregon Law.
The Domestic Partnership Was Documented
Claimant provided the agency with a certified copy of his Declaration of Domestic
Partnership, which is the operative legal document establishing his domestic partner
relationship with the NH. Claimant, therefore, has documentation of the domestic partnership.
Hawaii will recognize a domestic partnership entered into in Oregon as long as the
union (1) meets Hawaii’s civil union eligibility requirements; (2) was validly entered
into under Oregon laws; and (3) can be documented. Here, the domestic partnership
between the NH and Claimant satisfied these requirements. Accordingly, under Hawaii
law, Claimant would be entitled to inherit to the same extent as a surviving spouse
if NH died intestate. The agency therefore deems Claimant to be the NH’s spouse, entitling
him to surviving spouse benefits.