I'm 67 years old. I took Social Security early after losing my job when the economy crashed. Later my husband developed Alzheimer's, and I couldn't get another job because I had to care for him. It got so bad I had to have him put in a nursing home on Medicaid. They allow me keep his Social Security because I can't live on just mine. He's 85 years old now and has been in and out of hospitals. I'm concerned about how I'll manage when he passes away. I don't want to lose my home. Please don't think I'm selfish. I'm trying to be realistic. I was told I wouldn't be entitled to get my husband's benefit when he died because I took Social Security early. Is that right?
You don't sound at all selfish. And you will be entitled to a survivor benefit when your husband dies.
You'll receive whichever is larger -- your own Social Security benefit or your survivor benefit. The size of your survivor benefit depends on how old you are when your husband dies. Since you'll be older than 66 -- your full retirement age -- at the time of his death, your survivor benefit will be 100 percent of his Social Security benefit when he died.
But you'll be living on one Social Security benefit instead of two. For guidance on how to maximize your income and referral to programs that may help you do that, ask for senior financial counseling at the Family Service Association of Nassau County (516-485-5600) and/or the Suffolk County Department of Aging (631-853-8200).
THE BOTTOM LINE When you apply for a widow's benefit after reaching your full retirement age, you're entitled to receive 100 percent of the amount your late spouse was collecting.
TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert /Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.