Spousal benefits under Social Security are valuable. But to receive them, you have to be married in the Social Security Administration's eyes. One question that comes up with spousal benefits is whether you have to have had a formal marriage ceremony to qualify.

In the following video from our Social Security Q&A series, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, answers a question from Fool reader Dona, who talks about a situation in which her stepsister got married only two weeks before her spouse's death but had lived with her spouse for 10 years. Dan notes that usually, you have to be married at least nine months before death to qualify for survivors' benefits. But Social Security recognizes common-law marriages, and so you have to look to state law to find out whether a couple meets the requirements of having been married under common law. If the answer is yes, then you have a good argument that you're entitled to spousal or survivors' benefits under Social Security.

Have general questions about Social Security? Email them to SocialSecurity@fool.com, and they might be the subject of a future video!

Dan Caplinger and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.