Q: I am 70, divorced, and collecting $820 a month on my ex-spouse's Social Security record. I started collecting this benefit at age 63. Now I wish to remarry a man who is 86 years old. He currently gets about $1,400 a month in Social Security. How will remarrying affect my Social Security benefit? If he should die while I am married to him, would I be entitled to a widow's benefit on his record, even though I am currently collecting on my ex-spouse's record? I am very confused. Maybe I should not remarry. I certainly can’t afford to risk even lower benefits. – DK, via email
A: What happens to your Social Security benefit will depend on whether your ex-spouse is still alive.
If he is, the $820 benefit you're currently receiving is approximately half of his Social Security benefit. (The maximum spousal or ex-spousal benefit is 50% of your mate or former mate’s benefit amount. You’re actually getting a little less than that because you applied for it at 63. To get 50%, you'd haev had to apply at your full retirement age, which was 65 and 10 months.)
You’re eligible for a benefit based on your ex’s work record because you met four conditions: You’re 62 or older; your marriage lasted at least ten years; your benefit based on your own work record is smaller than your spousal benefit; and you haven’t remarried.
If you remarry, you’ll no longer meet all four conditions -- so you’ll no longer be eligible for the benefit.
But it’s a very different story if your ex-husband is dead:
Your Social Security benefit as his surviving ex-spouse would be twice the amount you can collect during his lifetime. As an eligible surviving ex-spouse, you’d receive 100% of the amount your ex was getting (or was eligible to receive) at the time of his death.
To be eligible for the survivor's benefit, you must meet three conditions: You’re 60 or older; your marriage lasted at least ten years; and your benefit based on your own work record is smaller than your survivor’s benefit. If you remarry before you turn 60, you can’t claim a survivor’s benefit based on the work record of a former spouse. But if you remarry after age 60, your survivor’s benefit based on your previous marriage is not affected.
Since you’re 70 years old, assuming your ex husband is dead, even if you remarry you’ll continue receiving the Social Security benefit based on his record.
As to your last question, if your new husband dies during your marriage you’ll be entitled either to claim a survivor's benefit based on his work record as his widow or to claim a survivor’s benefit based on your late ex-husband’s work record. You would take the larger of the two amounts.
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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