Dear Harry:

I have lived with someone for more than 13 years in a common-law marriage. Am I able to collect Social Security as a surviving spouse? I have old bank books, bank statements, old car registrations, and old envelopes addressed to us, Please help. I need income desperately. *

What Harry says: The official SS rules on this read, "Both parties must be legally capable of contracting a valid marriage with each other, contract the marriage in a state that recognizes common-law marriages, have the intent to be married, consider themselves a husband and wife, and mutually agree to become husband and wife from that time on." Pennsylvania passed a law that in effect recognizes such marriages that occurred before January 2 ,2005. ("No common-law marriages contracted after January 1, 2005 shall be valid.") You seem to meet all the requirements with the evidence you have. I'm curious as to why you kept envelopes for such a long period. And do remember that you have the right of appeal of an unfavorable initial decision by SS. *

Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Harry urges all his readers to give blood - contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE LIFE.