You asked whether the Agency would recognize an opposite-sex domestic partnership
entered into in the District of Columbia (D.C.) to establish a non-marital legal relationship
for purposes of entitlement to Title II benefits.
We believe that a member of an opposite-sex D.C. domestic partnership is entitled
to Title II benefits because a D.C. domestic partnership is a non-marital legal relationship
conferring inheritance rights on a surviving domestic partner under D.C. law.
On November XX, 2014, the Number Holder, M~ (NH), and the Claimant, S~ (CL), entered
into a domestic partnership in Washington, D.C. The NH and the CL remained in that
domestic partnership, while residing in D.C., until the NH’s death on January XX,
2018. The CL filed a surviving spouse’s benefit application on April XX, 2018.
A. Federal Law
To be entitled to survivor’s benefits under Title II of the Social Security 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), 416(c)(1),(g)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335. 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 was domiciled 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).
A “non-marital legal relationship,” such as a civil union or domestic partnership,
can be treated as a marital relationship. See POMS GN 00305.005 (Determining Marital Status) (“[i]n determining whether a claimant qualified as a
spouse under the Social Security Act, consider all of the following types of marital
relationships . . . [including] domestic partnerships”).
The Agency will recognize a non-marital legal relationship if, under the laws of the
State where the insured individual had a permanent home upon death, the claimant “
would be able to inherit a wife’s, husband’s, widow’s, or widower’s share of the insured’s
property if he or she were to die without leaving a will.” Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii);
20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
B. D.C. Law
The information provided to us indicates that NH died in D.C. As such, the Agency
looks to D.C. law to determine survivorship rights for his estate. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); see
also D.C. Code Ann. § 19-101.01 (“Sections 19-101.01 to 19-101.06 [the sections governing
survivor’s rights] apply to the estate of a decedent who dies domiciled in the District
D.C. established domestic partnerships in 1992. See Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 (D.C. Law 9-114 (effective June 11, 1992),
codified at D.C. Code § 32-701 to 32-710); see also DC.gov Department of Health, domestic partnership information, https://dchealth.dc.gov/service/domestic-partnership (last visited June 11, 2018) . The Act was fully effectuated in 2002
In 2006, D.C. passed the Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act (“2006 Act”),
which greatly expanded the benefits granted domestic partners, conferring upon them
“similar rights and responsibilities held by spousal couples in the areas of spousal
immunity, inheritance, surviving spouses and children, spousal support, and public
assistance.” Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79 (effective
Apr. 4, 2006), available at https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/laws/docs/16-79.pdf (last visited June 14, 2018).
In particular, the 2006 Act amended D.C.’s intestacy statute to treat a surviving
domestic partner the same as a surviving spouse with respect to intestate inheritance,
D.C. Code § 19–301 et seq.; see also Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, available at
https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/laws/docs/16-79.pdf. As a result, D.C.’s intestacy statute provides that “the personal estate of the deceased
resident of the District [of Columbia], if not bequeathed, shall be distributed, to
the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner . . . .” D.C. Code § 19-301. The
statute further provides that domestic partners are treated the same as surviving
spouses with respect to the size of the share of the decedent’s estate. D.C. Code
C. Analysis of D.C. Domestic Partnerships for Purposes of Title II
Here, as evidenced by the Certificate of Domestic Partnership issued by the D.C. Department
of Health, the CL and the NH entered into a domestic partnership in D.C. in November
As discussed above, D.C. law confers upon a surviving domestic partner the same “rights
and responsibilities” as a spouse with respect to the right to inherit from an intestate
estate. In particular, D.C. law permits a domestic partner to inherit the same intestate
share as a spouse. Accordingly, the D.C. domestic partnership between NH and CL meets
the criteria for treating a non-marital legal relationship as a marital relationship
for purposes of entitlement to Title II benefits. Therefore, we conclude that the
Agency should recognize the NH and CL’s D.C. domestic partnership for purposes of
entitlement to Title II benefits. See Social Security Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345.
For the reasons stated above, it is our opinion that the Agency should recognize the
D.C. domestic partnership between NH and CL for purposes of entitlement to Title II
benefits and, therefore, that CL is entitled to Title II benefits as the widower of