Concerned about entering into a Domestic Partnership

Dear Len & Rosie,

My partner and I are thinking about registering for a domestic partnership. I am female and age 64. I plan to draw my full Social Security benefit at age 66. If I die will he be able to collect half of my benefits? Also, my partner’s father has let us live in a home owned by him and his late mother.

He is keeping the house in his name for tax purposes under Prop 13 and says it is “all in his will” so my partner will get the house when he passes away. I am nervous that if my partner passes away before his father I may not have a place to live. Can’t my partner have his name put on the deed now? That way if we are domestic partners I would be entitled to claim his part of the property? Thank you so much.


Dear Nora,

California’s domestic partnership law was enacted in 1999, but initially it did not provide for much more than a guarantee of hospital visitation rights for registered partners. Same-sex couples may register at any age. Heterosexual couples may register only if either or both partners are age 62 or older. Over the years, the Legislature has expanded the benefits of domestic partnership to the extent that it’s the same as marriage under California law.

But a domestic partnership isn’t marriage and has no status under federal law. If you register as domestic partners, you can’t collect off of one another’s Social Security wage and earning history. If you want Social Security benefits from your partner, the two of you will have to get married.

As far as the home goes, it’s not owned by your partner. It’s up to his father to deal with it within his own estate plan. He could give the home to your partner, if he wants to, but you can’t force him to do so. If he does transfer the property, you shouldn’t be added to the deed unless you and your partner are married or have registered as domestic partners with the California Secretary of State. This is important, because putting you on the deed before marriage or registration may result in a property tax reassessment under Proposition 13.

So why hasn’t he given the home to your partner? It’s hard to say. He may not trust his son. He may not want you to get it. He may be a man with Depression Era Syndrome who isn’t willing to give up anything before his death. What we can tell you is that once your partner gets the property, it will still be his sole and separate property that he doesn’t have to leave to you.

You have good reason for concern. We have spoken to many people who face a bleak financial future because they naively stuck with spouses, domestic partners, or friends who were not willing to provide for them. It is perfectly acceptable for you to stand up and ask for what you need, and cut your losses if you don’t get it. What you need to do is to have a frank discussion with your partner. Let him know that you are willing to enter into a permanent relationship, but only if he’s willing to provide for your future.

Len & Rosie