The delivery of services and benefits to people supporting older and disabled relatives and friends depends largely on their identification within constructs of ‘care-giving’ and ‘carer’. Those who are married or living with a partner may be particularly resistant to adopting the identity of ‘care-giver’ or ‘care receiver’. This paper investigates the circumstances of couples and their adoption of carer identities, drawing on a study of the financial implications of a partner's death. That study was based on over 750 couples where one partner died, drawn from the British Household Panel Survey, and separate qualitative interviews with people whose partner died in the previous two years. The findings show that carer self-identification was influenced by the partner's health-care needs and service contacts, including welfare benefits receipts. None of the socio-demographic factors considered was statistically linked to whether people described themselves as providing care for their partner, unless there was an underlying association with the partner's health-care needs. The findings underline the problems of using self-reported identities in surveys and estimates of take-up of services and benefits, and the difficulties of delivering entitlements to people who care for their partner at the end-of-life. A challenge for policy makers is how to move beyond formal categories of ‘carer’ and ‘care-giving’ to incorporate inter-dependence, emotional commitment and the language of relationships in planning support for frail older people.