Questions From Listeners: Widow’s Social Security Benefits

BOSTON (WBZ-AM) -- Q: My spouse was married for 25 years before we got married. Who gets his Social Security benefits when he dies?

In most circumstances, you must be married to the deceased person for at least nine months to qualify for widow’s benefits based on your spouse's Social Security record. But if the deceased spouse’s death was accidental, not caused by a medical issue, you may qualify for survivor benefits immediately. So, if you meet those qualifications you will receive a survivor benefit upon his death.

His ex-wife upon his death can also collect on his benefit record if she has not remarried. Unless her marriage occurred after she reached age 60. The SSA’s guidelines are that you must have been married at least 10 years before the divorce to be eligible to collect on an ex-spouse’s Social Security record.

When he dies you would be entitled to the larger of his benefit or your own. You will not be able to collect both benefits. And his ex would have the same rights as you do. You would not need to share the benefit though. It would be the same benefit amount.

While he is alive upon retirement you would be entitled to one half of his benefit or your own whichever is larger. And the same would apply for an ex-spouse as long as they had been married for at least 10 years and she has not remarried.

In this case, if his ex-spouse files based on your husband’s Social Security record it will not reduce his benefits or yours if you are collecting on his record.

Social Security can be very complicated as to when to start benefits. You can begin to collect benefits as early as 62, unless you have been widowed then you can start them at age 60. Starting early does have some advantages as you have cash in your hands, but the longer you wait the larger your benefit will be.

Starting at age 62 could reduce your benefits by as much as 25% permanently.

Starting early also penalizes you if you decide to work and earn more than $17,040 for 2018. For every $2 above that amount you will lose $1 in SS benefits.

You can hear Dee Lee’s expert financial advice on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 each weekday at 1:55 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.

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