Question 366: If you are a common law wife and your husband dies, can you receive Railroad Retirement?
Answer: Good question!
Railroad Retirement follows State law in determining marital relationships. A common law marriage is still recognized in the District of Columbia and in the following 10 states: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Montana, Pennsyvania and Texas. Many other states recoginzed common law marriages in the past; those created during those periods also would be recognized. If you establish your common law relationship to the satisfaction of the Railroad Retirement Board, you will be eligible for benefits as a wife or widow.
Usually, to create a common law relationship, a couple must live as husband and wife and must represent themselves as a married couple to others. Evidence to establish such a relationship might consist of legal documents (property deeds, car titles, wills, etc.), whether the wife used the husband's last name, and sworn statements from family members or friends attesting to the marital relationship.
Of course, if your husband is still alive, you could go through a legal marriage ceremony now, to remove any doubt. You should consult with an attorney in your State to see where you stand legally.