20 CFR 404.1607

SSR 65-53

Where husband as representative payee is in receipt of benefits for the use and benefit of his wife who is in a mental hospital; where the wife's current maintenance needs are adequately met from a portion of the social security benefits; where husband's income is hardly sufficient to meet his expenses; where 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" within the meaning of § 404.1607 of the Social Security Administration Regulations No. 4 (20 CFR 404.1607) and thus may be permitted to expend a portion of the wife's social security benefits for his own support.

W is entitled to wife's insurance benefits of $45.50 per month. She is confined in a State mental hospital where she is bedfast due to physical and mental illness. Although there is no expected possibility of trial home visits or her release, neither W nor her husband, R, intended to sever the family relationship; their separation was involuntary. R was selected as representative payee to receive W's benefits for her use and benefit. R pays a portion of W's benefits to the hospital for her complete care. He has applied the remainder toward her life insurance policy and for the maintenance of their home of 25 years. R is 74 years of age and has but a meager income from social security benefits and occasional odd jobs. He has requested advice as to whether he may use part of his wife's social security benefits for his own support.

Section 205(j) of the Act provides that when it appears that the interest of a beneficiary would be served thereby certification of payment may be made either for direct payment to such beneficiary or for his use and benefit to a relative or some other person. Payments 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. Thus, § 404.1607 of the Social Security Administration Regulations No. 4 (20 CFR 404.1607) provides that where current maintenance needs of a beneficiary are being reasonably met, part of the beneficiary's payments may be used for the support of the legally dependent spouse or a legally dependent child of the beneficiary.

Whether R is a legally dependent spouse of W depends on applicable State law which, in this case, provides in pertinent part:

The expenses of the family and the education of the children are chargeable upon the property of both husband and wife, or either of them, and in relation thereto they may be sued jointly or separately * * *.

The liability imposed on the wife's property by this statute is for the benefit of creditors of the family rather than directly for the benefit of the husband. The issue is, therefore, whether under the above statute a husband may be considered to be the "legally dependent spouse" of his wife within the meaning of that phrase in § 404.1607 of the Social Security Administration Regulations.

Where a beneficiary may be held legally liable for family expenses under a statute such as the one in this case, her husband may be considered a "legally dependent spouse," within the meaning of such term as used in the above section of the regulations. In such cases, an expenditure of a portion of her benefits by her representative payee to satisfy her legal obligation in this regard advantages her in the sense of satisfying her legal obligation as to third persons for family expenses.

In the instant case, under the applicable State law, W would be liable for family expenses even though she and her husband were not residing together, if their separation did not occur with an intent of the parties to sever the family relationship. since in the instant case the separation was involuntary, and due only to W's confinement in a State hospital, it is accordingly held that W would be legally liable for family expenses under the above statute, and that an expenditure of a portion of W's benefits by R for his own support would be proper.

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