Social Security has special rules for widows, widowers

You can only collect one Social Security benefit

You can only collect one Social Security benefit at a time. A qualifying widow can receive a benefit based on her deceased husband’s earnings or a benefit based on her current husband’s earnings — not both. (Credit: iStock)

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My husband of 28 years passed away several years ago. I remarried after I was 60 years old. When I turn 62, can I apply for a survivor's benefit based on my late husband's Social Security record? And after I reach my full retirement age, can I switch from that survivor's benefit to my own Social Security benefit, which will be larger than the one based on my late husband's earnings?

 

The answer to both questions is yes.


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Your plan would be impossible if you had remarried before age 60, or if you were applying for a benefit based on a living spouse's earnings. But surviving spouses who don't remarry, or who remarry after they turn 60, have Social Security options not available to other people.

When you apply for Social Security based on a living spouse's earnings before you've reached your full retirement age, you must simultaneously apply for your own benefit. You can't take a spousal benefit at 62 and switch later to your own benefit. But widows and widowers do have that option. As a surviving spouse who didn't remarry until after age 60, when you're 62 you can apply for a reduced widow's benefit -- reduced because you'll be under your full retirement age -- and then switch to your own (unreduced) benefit at full retirement age. And vice versa: You can take your own reduced benefit at 62 and switch to an unreduced widow's benefit at full retirement age. Clearly, it's sensible to postpone the bigger benefit.

Finally, remember that you can only collect one Social Security benefit at a time. A qualifying widow can receive a benefit based on her deceased husband's earnings or a benefit based on her current husband's earnings -- not both.

The bottom line Social Security has special rules for widows and widowers.

Websites with more information nwsdy.li/widow and nwsdy.li/survivorage

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert / Act 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. 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.

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