Since 1997, Hawaii has offered reciprocal beneficiary registration to adults prohibited by state law from marrying, including same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Hawaii’s Reciprocal Beneficiaries Act allows people who cannot legally marry to register with the state to receive some of the same benefits as married couples.

Hawaii also offers civil unions as an alternative to traditional marriage.

What Are Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationships?

A reciprocal beneficiary relationship is a legal relationship that is established when two consenting adults who are prohibited from marriage declare their intent to enter one. Both parties cannot be married or part of another reciprocal beneficiary relationship. If you wish to become a reciprocal beneficiary, you must register with the Department of Health. Chapter 572C of the Hawaii Revised Statutes must be followed.

The parties to a reciprocal beneficiary relationship may end the relationship by filing a notarized declaration of termination of the reciprocal beneficiary relationship with the Department of Health.

It is the Department of Health’s responsibility to register the declaration or termination of reciprocal beneficiary relationships. Accordingly, the Department of Health neither determines the validity of the reciprocal beneficiary relationship nor provides information on the rights and benefits extended to reciprocal beneficiaries or the consequences of their termination.

Benefits

State reciprocal beneficiaries have a limited number of rights and benefits, including inheritance rights, workers compensation, the right to sue for wrongful death, health insurance and pension benefits for state employees, hospital and jail visitation rights, and healthcare decision-making. As part of Hawaii’s RBR status, partners may jointly own property as “Tenants by the Entirety.”

Recognition

Many other jurisdictions view Hawaii’s reciprocal beneficiary law as being significantly weaker than other same-sex union laws. In New Jersey, for instance, reciprocal beneficiary status is equivalent to domestic partnerships, not civil unions.

Who Qualifies to Register as Reciprocal Beneficiaries?

Hawaii residents over 18 who are not permitted to legally marry may register as reciprocal beneficiaries. Examples include:

  • Adult brothers and sisters
  • A widowed parent and an adult child
  • Aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews

A person attempting to register must also be unmarried and not already registered as a reciprocal beneficiary.

How to Register a Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship

The first step is to prepare and file a Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship Registration Form with the Department of Health.

Both parties must sign and notarize the form. Ask your local bank about notary services.
At the time of filing the registration form, an $8.00 fee must be paid. The payment must be made by money order or cashier’s check only payable to the State Director of Finance. Cash or personal checks will not be accepted.

The registration form must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelope.You must provide two stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelopes if the certificates (see below) are to be sent to different addresses.

You may mail the notarized Registration form, payment, and envelope to the State Department of Health, Office of Health Status Monitoring in Honolulu.

Following registration, two Certificates of Registration of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship (one for each party) will be mailed using the stamped, self-addressed legal-size envelope(s) provided.

On a walk-in basis, registration forms and certificates of registration will not be accepted.
The Certificate of registration is available upon written request, sent to the same address listed above, for a fee of $8.00 per copy (payment must be made in the same way as for the initial registration), and a stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelope must accompany the letter.

How to File a Declaration of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship

Preparing and filing a Declaration of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship Form with the Department of Health is the first step.

Both parties must sign and notarize the Declaration of Termination form. You can find notary public services at your local bank.

The filing fee for the Declaration of Termination is $8.00. Payment must be made by money order or cashier’s check payable to the State Director of Finance. Cash or personal checks will not be accepted.

The Declaration of Termination must be accompanied by at least one stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelope. If the certificates (see below) are to be sent to two different addresses, please provide two stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelopes.

The notarized Declaration of Termination form, payment, and envelope(s) must be mailed to the State Department of Health, Office of Health Status Monitoring.

Two Certificates of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationships (one for each party) will be mailed using the stamped, self-addressed, legal-sized envelope(s) provided.
Walk-ins will not be accepted or issued Certificates of Termination.

The Certificate of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship is available upon written request to the same address listed above, at the cost of $8.00 per copy (payment must be made in the same manner as for the initial registration), along with a stamped, self-addressed, legal-size envelope.

Do We Have to Live Together In Order to Register?

No. Hawaiian law does not require the two adults to be in a committed relationship or live together in order to be able to register as reciprocal beneficiaries.

Why Should My Partner and I Register as Reciprocal Beneficiaries?

By registering as reciprocal beneficiaries, you and your partner will receive many of the same benefits the state provides to married couples. Some of these benefits include:

  • Hospital visitation rights
  • The ability to sue for wrongful death
  • Property and inheritance rights
  • The extension of family health insurance benefits to your partner

How Do You Register as Reciprocal Beneficiaries?

Hawaii’s State Department of Health handles registration. To apply, you and your partner must fill out an application, have it notarized, and submit it with a small fee to the Department of Health.

How Do You Terminate a Reciprocal Beneficiaries Relationship?

To end a reciprocal beneficiary relationship, either party, not both, must file a notarized declaration with the Department of Health and pay a fee. Marriage licenses issued to reciprocal beneficiaries terminate the relationship as well. It is important to keep in mind that any reciprocal beneficiary can terminate the relationship and that one party can do so without the other’s consent or even knowledge.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Register as Reciprocal Beneficiaries?

While you and your partner do not need a lawyer to register as reciprocal beneficiaries, you should consult a Hawaii family lawyer to ensure that you are both provided for in the event of illness or death. Furthermore, you can ask whether there is a limit on who can be considered immediate family members, overriding any state law that requires reciprocal beneficiaries to have the same rights as spouses.

Reciprocal beneficiary relationships are somewhat challenging to establish. There are several steps involved. A Hawaii family lawyer can help ensure you follow all necessary steps to establish a reciprocal beneficiary relationship.

Additionally, a reciprocal beneficiary is considered an “interested person” concerning healthcare decision-making and on equal footing with an adult child, parent, or sibling of the patient (Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 327E-2). As a result, a reciprocal beneficiary has a say in healthcare decision-making if the patient does not have an advance healthcare directive. Your lawyer can help explain these areas of the law to you in more detail.