My father died 23 years ago when I was 17. My mother is now 62 and disabled. I've repeatedly asked her about her eligibility for my father's Social Security. She insists she's not entitled to anything because she received money until we turned 18. Is she correct?

No. What she received years ago wasn't a regular widow's benefit. She's now entitled to a benefit based on your father's work record or on her own work record, whichever is greater.

Here are the rules:

A widow or widower of any age is entitled to a temporary benefit if he or she takes care of a child younger than 16, or a disabled child. The surviving children also get a benefit, until they turn 18 (19 if still in high school). In other words, a surviving child's Social Security benefit lasts two years longer than a surviving parent's benefit. That's why your mother says she received money until you were 18.

The surviving spouse must be at least 60 years old to collect a regular widow(er)'s benefit -- and to receive the maximum benefit, he or she must delay applying for it until reaching full retirement age. In your mother's case, that's age 66.

She should make an appointment at a local Social Security office to find out what benefits she's entitled to at her current age (62) and at 66. She can't collect more than one Social Security benefit at a time -- and it's unclear from your letter whether she currently receives a disability benefit -- but if she's entitled to more than one she'll automatically receive the largest benefit amount.

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THE BOTTOM LINE Receiving a Social Security benefit as the parent of minor children doesn't make you ineligible for regular widow or widower's benefits as early as age 60.


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