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How to Designate Your Same-Sex Partner as Beneficiary

DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) blocks an LGBT partner’s right to collect his or her deceased partner’s Social Security benefits as well as other federally regulated pension and retirement funds. When a heterosexual couple gets married — regardless of their home state — they automatically receive more than a thousand federal and state legal and financial protections, including protections for older couples and surviving partners.

In order to adequately protect your partner (besides creating wills, trusts, advance directives, and other documents), you also need to take steps to make sure your partner has the necessary funds to live a reasonably comfortable life after your death.

If you want your partner to receive your pension benefits, even if you work for a private or public employer that offers ERISA-like benefits to its LGBT employees, you need to check with your employer to make sure you’ve filled out the proper beneficiary forms naming your partner as the rightful beneficiary of your pension funds.

The federal ERISA governs employee pension plans. Among other things, ERISA protects a surviving spouse’s automatic right to receive his or her deceased spouse’s pension benefits, even if the employee doesn’t purposefully designate a beneficiary. Furthermore, an employee may not change the beneficiary of his or her pension without the spouse’s written consent.

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