Hawaii has a unique, legally-recognized relationship that is similar to a civil union and can impact estate planning. It’s called the “reciprocal beneficiary” relationship. Hawaii’s Reciprocal Beneficiaries Act allows two adults who are not allowed to marry legally to register as reciprocal beneficiaries. They also share some of the same benefits that married couples or those in civil unions have.
What is a reciprocal beneficiary relationship?
A reciprocal beneficiary relationship is a legal status available to adults who wish to share some of the benefits that are accorded to married couples or those in civil unions/domestic partnerships even though they are prohibited from getting married.
Reciprocal beneficiaries do not have all the rights that married couples do. But they have some rights and benefits that include:
- inheritance rights
- jail visitation
- hospital visitation
- health insurance and pension benefits (for state employees)
- the right to make medical decisions
- workers compensation benefits
- the option to jointly own property (with rights of survivorship going to the other beneficiary).
Why would you want to be in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship?
Being in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship is an option that could make sense for those who are close relatives or others who would like to share legal benefits or property.
Some beneficial relationship examples included siblings, half-siblings, uncle and niece or nephew, aunt and niece or nephew, etc. It predates the law giving same-sex couples the right to marry in Hawaii, and the designation formerly gave same-sex couples some limited rights.
It may be an option for you if you are not married and have a very close family member who you would like to have inheritance rights and to have a great degree of access and decision-making ability if something should happen to you. For many people, establishing a power of attorney for your finances and healthcare decisions — along with having a robust estate plan — is a better option.
What are the requirements for being in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship?
To be in a valid reciprocal beneficiary relationship, parties must satisfy a number of requirements, such as not being married to another, being of majority age, and not having been forced into the relationship, and being prohibited under the law to marry each other.
The specific requirements are:
- Both parties must be 18 years of age or older
- The parties must be prohibited from marrying each other under HRS chapter 572
- Both parties must consent freely to the relationship, not under force, duress, or fraud
- Neither party can be married to another person or be in another reciprocal beneficiary relationship
- Each party must sign a declaration of reciprocal beneficiary relationship
You do not have to share a residence in order to register or have status as a reciprocal beneficiary.
How do you become a reciprocal beneficiary?
The process for registering as reciprocal beneficiaries is simple. Mail the signed, notarized form — along with two self-addressed, stamped envelopes — to the Department of Health along with the appropriate fee. The Department of Health will mail certificates of registration to both parties upon receipt.
How do you end a reciprocal beneficiary relationship?
You can end a reciprocal beneficiary relationship as easily as you register it. In order to terminate the relationship, you need to fill out, sign, notarize, and mail the appropriate form (Declaration of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship) to the Department of Health. You will also need to include the nominal fee and at least one self-addressed stamped envelope.