Q: I am 59 years old. I was married to my first husband -- the father of my two children -- for more than 10 years. He is now deceased, and we were divorced at the time of his death.
I remarried and divorced twice after that first marriage, but each of my two other marriages lasted less than 10 years. I've been unmarried for the past 14 years.
On the Social Security website, it states that I would be eligible to draw a survivor's benefit from my first marriage even if I had remarried, provided I am not married at the time I apply for this benefit.
I called the SS office and was told I would not be eligible for the survivor's benefit because I had remarried. The woman I spoke with said that I would only be eligible a benefit on the last husband's record -- but we were only married for two years and he is alive and well. She also told me to check with my local office to see if they can tell me I am eligible.
The website states that a survivor's benefit can be applied for at age 60. I may be unemployed in another year, and I was hoping the person I spoke with on the phone is wrong. -CP via email
A: She was wrong, but her advice was good. Clearly, she suggested you check with your local Social Security office because she herself wasn't sure of the answer.
The information on the website is correct: You are eligible for a survivor's benefit based on your first marriage if it lasted at least ten years and you're unmarried when you file for that benefit.
It doesn't matter that you had two subsequent marriages between the end of your first marriage and your application for a survivor's benefit.
In fact, if your second marriage had also lasted 10 years, and your second husband was also deceased, you'd qualify for a survivor's benefit from either of the two marriages, and you could apply for the larger of the two.
The earliest you can apply for a widow or widower's benefit is age 60. If you apply at 60, you will get a reduced amount. To receive the maximum benefit --100% of the amount your deceased first husband would be eligible to get at his own full retirement age -- you'd have to delay your application until you're 66 years old.
But what you can do is take the reduced survivor's benefit at age 60, and then at age 66 switch to your own full Social Security benefit if that's a larger amount. (For more information about the options available to people who are collecting a widow's or widower's benefit, see this earlier post.)
Make an appointment at your local Social Security office as the telephone representative suggested, and take a print-out of the information you found on the Social Security website with you. Be polite, patient, and persistent -- and if necessary, ask to speak with a supervisor.
Please send your questions to Lynn@LynnBrennersFamilyFinance.com. I'm sorry I can't respond personally to every email. Questions are only addressed online.
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