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Social Security: Making sense of survivor benefit

Social Security has special rules for widows and

Social Security has special rules for widows and widowers. Credit: iStock

I'm 64 years old. At 66, I plan to file for a survivor's Social Security benefit under my deceased husband's benefit. If I remarry, would I lose that benefit and have to take my own instead? If I remarry before I file for Social Security, could I still apply for my first husband's benefit? If I remarry and my new husband passes away, could I still collect my first husband's benefit?


After you turn 60, you can remarry without forfeiting your entitlement to a survivor benefit based on a deceased spouse's earnings record. Since you're 64, it doesn't matter whether you remarry before or after you file for Social Security. Either way, you won't lose your survivor benefit.

If your second husband later dies, you'll be entitled to two survivor benefits -- but you can't collect both. (No one can ever receive two Social Security benefits at the same time.) Instead, you'll get an amount equal to the larger of the two. If the bigger benefit is the one based on your first husband's work record, that's what you'll continue to receive.

Since you also have a potential benefit based on your own earnings, you may want to consider taking advantage of a special rule available only to surviving spouses: Widows and widowers can file early for their own discounted benefits, and then switch to a survivor benefit at or after their full retirement age -- or vice versa. Ideally, you file early for the smaller of the two benefits and postpone the bigger one, which grows annually while you delay collecting it. That's an option only for survivors.

If you take an early discounted benefit during your spouse's lifetime, you can't later switch to a full benefit.

THE BOTTOM LINE Social Security has special rules for widows and widowers.


TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email 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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