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Do you get benefits if you’re not married?

Unmarried couples may decide not to tie the knot for many reasons. Perhaps they feel it’s unnecessary, perhaps it’s an expense they don’t want to take on or maybe they’ve been married before and just don’t want to go through it again. Either way, it creates a complex situation if one partner passes away. Does the other one have any claim to benefits or assets even though they weren’t married?

When looking at workers’ compensation—for those who are killed in workplace accidents—it’s most important to note that the law looks at dependency more than any other factor. Even if unmarried, a person who was dependent on the other person’s income for survival can be given benefits.

Federal rulings often don’t give benefits to unmarried couples, however. For instance, the Death on the High Seas Act and the Veterans’ Administration Act specifically state that widows or widowers can accept benefits, meaning the couple had to be married.

This can be different in states where common-law marriage is practiced, but Maryland is not one of those states.

Likewise, Social Security benefits are only extended to couples who are officially married in Maryland. Again, in states where common-law marriages are recognized, Social Security benefits can be given to unmarried couples, but Maryland does not recognize these marriages and so Social Security will not be an option for the surviving partner.

These are just a few of the ways that benefits can be transferred after someone passes away, and you can see that the process is very different than it is for married couples. It’s important to know your rights if you’re not married.

Source: The People’s Law Library of Maryland, “Unmarried Cohabitants’ Benefits,” accessed Nov. 19, 2015

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