Which Wife Gets Widow’s Benefits If My Husband Dies?

Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column examines which wife can get survivor’s benefits on a decedent’s record, working in 2019 and the earnings test, potential effects of SSDI on other benefits, early retirement benefits and later spousal benefits and the availability and amount of widow(er)’s benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

Which Wife Gets Widow’s Benefits If My Husband Dies?​​

HI Larry, My husband has married two women and we are still married. If he dies, who would receive widow’s benefits based on his record? Thanks, Shirley

Hi Shirley, Potentially, both of you. A widow can be eligible for benefits based on a marriage lasting at least 9 months, whereas a divorced spouse must have been married to their deceased ex-spouse for a minimum of 10 years in order to qualify for surviving divorced spousal benefits. There is no limit on how many surviving divorced spouses may qualify for benefits on the same record as a widow.

On the other hand if you’re referring to a bigamous marital situation, then the widow who was validly married to the deceased would normally take precedence with regard to the payment of widow’s benefits. In some cases, though, both spouses could still be paid widow’s benefits. Best, Larry

How Much Can I Earn In 2019 Without Incurring A Penalty?​​

Hi Larry, If I retire in 2019 at 66, how much can I earn without incurring a penalty? Thanks, Carlos

Hi Carlos, There is no limit on earnings starting with the month you turn your full retirement age (FRA) of 66. And if you earn less than $46,920 in the months prior to the month in which you turn 66, you could potentially draw benefits starting January 2019 without losing any benefits to the earnings test.

Before deciding on when to file, though, you might want to run an expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers to explore your options and determine your best filing strategy. Best, Larry

How Would Drawing SSDI Affect My Future Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, I’m 62, have worked my entire life and expected to wait till 70 to retire. I had accident six months ago that left me totally disabled at the moment but I’m doing better and expect to return to some kind of part time employment. My LTD insurer through my employer is insisting I apply for SSDI now to reduce their monthly obligation. If SSDI is approved, how will it affect the amount of my Social Security retirement benefit at 66 or 70? Also, can I accept SSDI for only 12–18 months then stop it when I return to work? If so, how will it affect my benefit at 66 or 70? Thanks, Jeanette

Hi Jeanette, Drawing Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) would not hurt your future benefit rate. If you stayed on SSDI until full retirement age (FRA), your benefits would convert to regular retirement benefits at the same rate. And, you would be free to voluntarily suspend your retirement benefits starting at FRA in order to earn delayed retirement credits (DRC) until 70. If you start drawing SSDI and your benefits are later suspended or terminated due to a return to work, you would still retain the option of delaying your retirement benefits until age 70 in order to receive maximum DRCs. And your benefit rate could potentially be recalculated and increased as a result of your future earnings. Best, Larry

Can My Wife Start Drawing Her Own Benefits At Age 62 And Still Get A Full Spousal Benefit Later?​​

Hi Larry, My wife is considering filing for her Social Security retirement benefit this month at 62, which will be about $838. Her retirement benefit at 62 will be substantially less than half of my full retirement age retirement benefit. I’m 65 and 11 this month. In January 2021, I will file for my Social Security retirement benefits and my wife will be 64 and 3 months. In January 2021, can my wife file for spousal benefits and effectively receive 50% of what my retirement benefit would have been at 66? Thanks, Earnest

Hi Earnest, In the scenario you present, your wife would keep the reduction for age that she took to start drawing her retirement benefits early, plus a reduction in her spousal rate (if any) for starting that benefit before her full retirement age (FRA).

For example, Mary files for her reduced retirement benefits at age 62 and receives $600 based on her Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to her full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, of $800. When Mary reaches FRA, her husband files for his benefits with a PIA of $2,000. Mary’s spousal benefit would be calculated at 50% of her husband’s PIA minus her own PIA, or $200 (i.e. $2,000 / 2 – $800). This excess spousal benefit would then be added to Mary’s reduced retirement rate of $600 to give her a combined benefit of $800. However, if Mary’s husband files before Mary reaches FRA, then her spousal rate would also be reduced for age.

If your wife does file for early retirement, though, it could enable you to file for just spousal benefits only when you reach 66 and allow your own benefit rate to grow until 70. You and your wife can use an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as my company’s software or other extremely careful and precise software, to compare your options and determine your best overall filing strategy. Best, Larry

Can I Claim The Retirement Benefits My Husband Would Have Been Due Prior To His Death?​​

Mi Larry, My husband filed for Social Security disability benefits but I’m not sure if he filed for Social Security retirement benefits. He was 62 and filed in August of this year and he was approved for his disability benefit quickly due to his condition being on the list of compassionate approval. But he passed away during his 5 months waiting period. Is he entitled to his retirement benefit for being 62 and would I as spouse get that benefit in full for the 4 months that he was waiting to hear on the disability claim being approved. Someone told him not to file for his Social Security retirement benefit but apply for the disability instead as it would be a higher amount. But he didn’t know there was a five months waiting period. Thanks, Nancy

Hi Nancy, I’m sorry for your loss. If your husband filed for retirement benefits and died before receiving benefits to which he was entitled, then those benefits could normally be paid to you as an underpayment. The first month for which he could have been paid retirement benefits was his month of filing, and only if he was already at least age 62 at the start of that month. And the last month for which he could have been paid would have been the month prior to his month of death. However, you could not claim those benefits if your husband didn’t apply for them.

By the way, there is a potential downside if your husband did file for reduced retirement benefits in that it would limit your widow’s benefit rate to the higher of a) his reduced retirement rate, or b) 82.5% of his Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to his full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount. But if your husband didn’t file for reduced retirement, you would be able to receive 100% of his PIA if you wait until your full retirement age (FRA) to apply for widow’s benefits.

You may want to consider using an expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers to explore your filing options and determine your best strategy. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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