Social Security Ruling 65-53 outlines some general principles regarding when spouses
are legally dependent. The Ruling refers to Section 205(j) of the Social Security
Act, and notes that “[p]ayments are considered for the use and benefit of the beneficiary
when, among other purposes, they are used for the support of a person whom the beneficiary
is legally obligated to support.” The Ruling interpreted a State law that provided
that the expenses of the family and education of children was chargeable upon the
property of both husband and wife, or either of them, and that they may be sued jointly
or separately for those expenses. “[W]here there is absent any evidence of intentional
separation; and where, under applicable State law, the wife’s property is chargeable
for the expenses of her husband’s support, held, husband may be considered wife’s ‘legally dependent spouse.’” In such situations, the representative payee’s expenditure
of a portion of benefits on a spouse advantages the beneficiary, in the sense of satisfying
the beneficiary’s legal obligation to third persons for family expenses. SSR 65-53.
A spouse that is separated only due to involuntary hospitalization does not sever
the family relationship. Id.
Indiana law contains similar provisions to those at issue in SSR 65-53. First, Indiana
criminal law makes it a felony to knowingly or intentionally fail to provide support
to a person’s spouse when the spouse needs support, unless the person is unable to
provide support. Ind. Code § 35-46-1-6. Support means food, clothing, shelter, or
medical care. Ind. Code § 35-46-1-1.
Next, Indiana permits a dependent spouse to sue for support from the other spouse
under various circumstances, including if the other spouse deserted the spouse without
cause, is imprisoned, was adjudged insane, or became incapacitated or neglected to
provide support due to habitual drunkenness. Ind. Code § 31-16-14-1. This private
right permits recovery in a narrower set of circumstances than the law punishes as
Finally, Indiana also continues to recognize the common law doctrine of necessaries.
Bartrom v. Adjustment Bureau, Inc., 618 N.E.2d 1, 8 (Ind. 1993). This doctrine is analogous to the law at issue in SSR
65-53. Under Indiana’s doctrine of necessaries, a creditor may seek repayment from
a non-contracting spouse when the debtor spouse is unable to satisfy his or her own
personal needs or obligations. Id. As noted by the Indiana Supreme Court, the duty of spousal support is clearly embedded
in Indiana’s modern law of domestic relations. Id. at 5. The resources of one spouse ought to be used to help support the other should
the other become necessitous. Id. (citing Aurora Casket v. Ropers, 117 Ind.App. 684, 687 (Ind.Ct.App.1947)). This duty continues at least until the
marital relationship is dissolved. Bartrom, 618 N.E.2d at 9.
Here, there is no allegation of facts that E~ is no longer the spouse of D~. Thus,
D~ would be both criminally and potentially civilly liable to support his spouse and
to satisfy his spouse’s debts when incurred for necessaries. As such, E~ is a legally
dependent spouse of D~, and the representative payee is authorized to distribute “part
of” the payments for her support. 20 C.F.R. § 404.2040(c).
From the presented facts, however, it appears that the representative payee (Northwest
Manor Health Care Center) may have made some errors. First, NMHCC may have exceeded
what is permitted by distributing the entire benefits check to E~, instead of part
of the check. Second, NMHCC may not have adequately accounted for D~’s current maintenance,
which includes clothing and personal comfort items. 20 C.F.R. § 404.2040(a)(1). Some
examples of acceptable personal needs expenditures are convenience items such as clocks,
radios, TVs, watches, health and hygiene items, hobby and craft items, furnishings,
holiday presents and telephone expenses. POMS GN 00602.010(B)(3). Thus, the mere fact that Medicaid paid for D~’s “cost of care” may not have
satisfied the entirety of D~’s maintenance needs. Finally, at a minimum, the representative
payee should set aside $30 per month to be used for the beneficiary’s personal needs
or saved on his behalf. POMS GN 00602.010(B)(2).