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Social Security widow’s benefit must meet requirements

A reader asks what the rules are for

A reader asks what the rules are for qualifying for Social Security benefits as a surviving spouse. Credit: ISTOCK

My sister’s marriage to her first husband lasted 29 years during which she seldom worked. A few years after their divorce, she remarried. When she was 67, she applied for Social Security and was turned down. She was told that because she remarried, she wouldn’t be entitled to collect any benefits from her first husband; and she hadn’t worked enough quarters to collect on her own record. Now, her second husband has stage three lung cancer. They’ve been married for 15 years. Will she be able to collect any of his Social Security when he passes away?

Yes. As his widow, she’ll receive a benefit equal to the one her husband collects at the time of his death, or the amount he was entitled to collect at the time of his death, if he hadn’t yet applied for Social Security.

In general, if your marriage has lasted for nine months, you’ll be eligible for a widow’s or widower’s benefit when your spouse dies — but only if you do not marry again before turning 60. And if you divorce after a marriage that has lasted at least 10 years, and you don’t remarry, you’re eligible for a widow’s or widower’s benefit when your ex dies.

The earliest you can apply for this benefit is age 60 (50 if disabled). Applicants who are between 60 and their full retirement age receive a reduced amount, ranging from 71.5 percent to 99 percent of their deceased spouse’s (or former spouse’s) benefit. Survivors who delay application until their full retirement age receive 100 percent of their deceased spouse’s (or former spouse’s) Social Security benefit.

THE BOTTOM LINE Your marriage needs to have lasted for only nine months to make you eligible for a widow’s or widower’s Social Security benefit when your spouse dies, provided you don’t remarry before age 60.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION

ssa.gov/planners/survivors/onyourown2.html

ssa.gov/policy/docs/workingpapers/wp89.html

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