Ask Larry: Will I Lose My Social Security Widow’s Benefits If I Remarry?

Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column examines remarriage while receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits, filing for and suspending a retirement benefit versus filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only, scam claims about benefit windfalls, and when to file for spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner. Both tools maximize lifetime Social Security benefits. MaxiFi also finds retirement account withdrawal strategies and other ways to lower your lifetime taxes and raise your lifetime spending. Most important, it suggests how much to spend and save each year to enjoy a stable living standard through time.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will I Lose My Social Security Widow’s Benefits If I Remarry?​​

Hi Larry, I am a widow collecting my widow’s benefit through my late husband’s Social Security record. I am now dating a widower who is collecting his own Social Security retirement benefits. If we were to marry, would I lose my widow’s benefits? Thanks, Lynn

Hi Lynn, Remarriages occurring after a widow reaches 60, or age 50 if the widow is disabled and eligible for disabled widow’s benefits, do not affect the widow’s eligibility for widow’s benefits on a prior spouse’s Social Security account. Therefore, if you’re already receiving widow’s benefits you must have already reached the age at which a remarriage would not affect your benefits. Best, Larry

Will Social Security Automatically Stop My Spousal Benefits And Start Paying My Regular Benefits When I Turn 70?​​

Hi Larry, I’m somewhat confused about how exactly I filed but I believe that I suspended my regular retire benefit at 66 in order to gain credits toward a higher benefit at age 70. However, I’m currently receiving a spousal benefit as my wife is disabled and is receiving SSDI. Will the SS administration automatically stop my spousal benefit and automatically start my retirement benefit when I turn 70. Thanks, Tom

Hi Tom, If you had actually filed for and then suspended your own Social Security retirement benefits, the only way that you could now be receiving spousal benefits is if 50% of your wife’s disability benefit (SSDI) rate is higher than your retirement benefits. Even then, you could only be paid a partial spousal benefit equal to the amount that 50% of your wife’s SSDI exceeds your full retirement rate. Once you’ve filed for your own Social Security retirement benefits, that becomes your primary benefit for life even if you suspend your benefits. Any additional benefits for which you may qualify (e.g. spousal, survivor) could only be paid to the extent that those benefits exceed your own suspended retirement rate. And even such partial benefits wouldn’t be paid if you suspend your retirement benefits after 4/29/2016.

So based on what you say, it sounds like you filed a restricted application for spousal benefits only, which is not at all the same as filing for and suspending your retirement benefit. That would mean that you haven’t yet applied for your own retirement benefits. Assuming that’s correct, you’ll need to file an application in order to become entitled to your retirement benefits.

On the other hand, though it doesn’t sound like you did, if you actually have filed for and suspended your own retirement benefits, you would not need to reapply for benefits. Social Security automatically reinstates payments for people whose benefits have been voluntarily suspended when they reach 70. Best, Larry

Do You Know What Strategy This Company May Be Referring To?​​

Hi Larry, I have read Get What’s Yours, but recently I have seen an add by a company that proclaims to increase my Social Security income by $16,748 per year if only I will buy their newsletter for $150! Do you have any idea what strategy they may be referring to? Thanks, Harry

Hi Harry, I have no idea and the “strategy” they are trying to sell you surely doesn’t exist.

I can assure you that there is no “one size fits all” strategy that could guarantee to increase everyone’s Social Security benefits. Software designed to analyze each person’s unique set of circumstances in order to determine their best strategy for claiming Social Security benefits can help determine how best to file. You may want to use one of my company’s two tools — Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner — to help maximize your lifetime Social Security benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Can My Husband Draw Spousal Benefits Until He Begins Collecting His Own Benefits At 70?​​

Hi Larry, I am turning 66 in November and have applied and been approved to receive my Social Security retirement benefits to begin then. Can my husband, who will be 69 in January and is not collecting Social Security benefits, apply for spousal benefits until he begins collecting his own Social Security retirement benefits at 70? Will this affect his own Social Security retirement amount? Thanks, Marie

Hi Marie, Yes, as long as your husband hasn’t yet filed for his own Social Security retirement benefits, he could potentially draw spousal benefits starting with the first month that you start drawing your benefits. And doing so would not adversely affect the amount that he could subsequently be paid on his own record.

Based on what you’ve described, a possible sticking point would be if your husband has already filed for and suspended his own retirement benefits. In that case, he wouldn’t be eligible for spousal benefits if his own rate is higher than his potential spousal rate, even if his own benefits are suspended. Best, Larry

Should My Wife File Early So That I Can Draw Spousal Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, I was born in 1952 so I have the option of obtaining a spousal benefit provided my spouse files. I will be 66 next month and I do not currently plan to file until 70. My spouse is 62 and and can file for reduced benefits now. Her benefit at 62 is $891, at full retirement it’s $12,08 and at 70 it’s $1,563.

If I understand correctly, if she files now she will get $891 and I will get a spousal benefit of $445. A total of $1,337 — am I correct about this?

Should she file for her retirement benefit now so I can file for spousal benefit? Thanks, Jerry

Hi Jerry, Your spousal benefit rate at full retirement age (FRA) would actually be 50% of your wife’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to her full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, even if she’s not yet FRA and she’d receive a reduced rate. Also, if your wife is still working both her benefits and your spousal benefits could be subject to full or partial withholding if she earns more than the Social Security earnings test exempt amount.

You don’t say how much your own retirement benefit rate will be at 70, but if it’s higher than your wife’s age 70 rate, that would be a point in favor of choosing the option of her filing early so that you can start drawing spousal benefits. Still, whether or not that’s your best option depends on your presumptions about the maximum ages that you and your wife may live to, as well as economic factors such as future rates of inflation. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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