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Ask the Expert: The fine-print of Social Security benefits for spouses

I'm currently receiving Social Security based on my deceased ex-wife's earnings record. If I remarry do I lose these benefits?

It depends on your age. If you collect Social Security as a widow or widower (or as a divorced widow or widower), you lose that benefit if you remarry before you're 60, or if you're disabled and remarry before you're 50.

If you're older, remarrying doesn't disqualify you.

My wife reaches her full retirement age (FRA) this May and will be taking the spousal benefit. I'm still working, and plan on working at least until the end of the year, when I'll be 70. Should she wait to file until I turn 70, as I am accumulating delayed retirement credits?

Your wife will have to wait, because she won't qualify for a spousal benefit based on your earnings until you've filed for Social Security.

But delaying her application past her FRA won't increase the size of her spousal benefit. The most she can collect as a spouse is 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA). That's the benefit you qualified for at your own FRA. Her spousal benefit doesn't include the extra annual 8% you're accumulating by postponing your Social Security application until 70.

Let's say your PIA was $2,000 a month. If you reached FRA at 66, but won't apply for Social Security until you're 70, your starting benefit will be 32% bigger — i.e., $2,640 a month. Her maximum spousal benefit will still be $1,000 a month.

But if she survives you, your extra credits will boost her widow's benefit. She'll receive 100% of the amount you were collecting (or were eligible to collect) at the time of your death.

The bottom line

Delaying your Social Security application can increase your surviving spouse's widow/widower's benefit.

More information

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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