Program Operations Manual Support (POMS) GN 00210.004.D includes a state chart on non-marital legal relationships. The chart provides
that Washington domestic partnership laws, with qualifying inheritance rights, became
effective on December 3, 2009.
We advise revision to this POMS section. Effective July 22, 2007, Washington began
recognizing registered domestic partnerships and amended its intestacy laws to allow
a surviving registered domestic partner to inherit intestate the deceased partner’s
property in the same manner as a surviving spouse. Accordingly, POMS GN 00210.004.D should reflect that Washington domestic partnership laws, with qualifying inheritance
rights, began on July 22, 2007, rather than December 3, 2009.
Washington Domestic Partnership Legislation
The State of Washington authorized domestic partnerships effective July 22, 2007. 2007 Wash. Legis. Serv. Ch. 156 (S.B. 5336). The Act provided that same-sex couples
over the age of 18 and heterosexual couples in which one partner was over the age
of 62 were eligible for domestic partnership if they shared a common residence, were
not closely related, married, or in domestic partnership with another person. Id. at Sec. 4. The law made domestic partners eligible for a number of the benefits
of marriage, including the right to inherit property from a partner dying intestate. Id. at Sec. 27. It amended the existing law to provide, in pertinent part, that a share
of the net estate of a person dying intestate would be distributed to the “surviving
spouse or state registered domestic partner.” Id. (emphasis in original). In 2008, the legislature expanded rights and responsibilities for domestic partners
in various areas of law. 2008 Wash. Legis. Serv. Ch. 6 (S.S.H.B. 3104). Those amendments
generally involved dissolutions, community property, estate planning, taxes, court
process, service to indigent veterans and other public assistance, conflicts of interest
for public officials, and guardianships. Id. However, the Act also further strengthened the inheritance rights of domestic partners. Id. at Sec. 901 et seq. For the most part, these additional rights became effective June 12, 2008, although
a few went into effect at later dates. Id.
In 2009, the legislature passed another law with the intent that registered domestic
partners be treated the same as married spouses for all purposes under state law. 2009
Wash. Legis. Serv. Ch. 521 (E.S.S.S.B. 5688). It provided:
Any privilege, immunity, right, benefit, or responsibility granted or imposed by statute,
administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other law to an individual
because the individual is or was a spouse, or because the individual is or was an
in-law in a specified way to another individual, is granted on equivalent terms, substantive
and procedural, to an individual because the individual is or was in a state registered
domestic partnership or because the individual is or was, based on a state registered
domestic partnership, related in a specified way to another individual.
Id. at Sec. 1. This bill was confirmed by Washington voters through Referendum 71 and
was certified on December 3, 2009.
In 2012, the legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriages. 2012 Wash. Legis.
Serv. Ch. 3 (E.S.S.B. 6239). The law also changed the eligibility requirements of
domestic partnerships and made some change to existing domestic partnerships. Id. at Sec. 9. To enter into a state-registered domestic partnership two people must
both share a common residence, both must be at least 18 years old, and at least one
must be at least 62 years old. Id. Further, any state-registered domestic partnership in which the parties are the same
sex, and neither party is at least 62 years old, that has not been dissolved or converted
into marriage by the parties by June 30, 2014, was automatically merged into a marriage
as of June 30, 2014. Id. at Sec. 10. This bill was upheld by voters when Referendum 74 was accepted and certified
on December 6, 2012. Washington State Secretary of State, History of Laws and Regulations pertaining to Domestic Partnerships in Washington
State, available at https://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/domesticpartnerships/laws_and_regulations.aspx (visited August 15, 2014).
The section of the Social Security Act pertaining to the determination of family status
provides that if the courts of the state in which an insured individual is domiciled
would not find that such applicant and such insured individual were validly married
at such time, such applicant shall, nevertheless be deemed to be the wife, husband,
widow, or widower, as the case may be, of such insured individual if such applicant
would, under the laws applied by such courts in determining the devolution of intestate
personal property, have the same status with respect to the taking of such property
as a wife, husband, widow, or widower of such insured individual.42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A). Thus,
it is the Agency’s position that if an applicant is in a non-marital legal relationship
that conveys spousal inheritance rights, the Agency can treat the relationship as
a spousal relationship for purposes of determining entitlement to benefits. POMS GN 00210.004 (Non-Marital Legal Relationships (Such as Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships)).
The Agency’s state chart on non-marital legal relationships has indicated that Washington
domestic partnership laws, with qualifying inheritance rights, became effective on
December 3, 2009, which was the date Referendum 71 was certified and state registered
domestic partners began being treated the same as married spouses for all purposes
under state law. However, surviving registered domestic partners in Washington state
have had the same intestate inheritance rights as surviving spouses since July 22,
2007. Therefore, because the Agency considers whether an applicant has the same status
as a spouse with respect to intestate inheritance when determining entitlement to
benefits, the earlier date should be applied. Accordingly, the Agency should modify
POMS GN 00210.004D to reflect that domestic partnerships in Washington state have had inheritance rights
since July 22, 2007.
We advise modifying POMS GN 00210.004D to reflect that Washington domestic partnership laws, with the right to inherit under
Washington’s intestacy law, began on July 22, 2007.