Ask Larry: Why Is My Husband’s Ex Getting Social Security Widow’s Benefits And I’m Not?

Today’s column addresses payment of survivor’s benefits to multiple spouses, common-law marriage, potential effects of benefits based on a spouse’s public pension, what to do with benefits received on behalf of children and the earnings test. 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.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Why Is My Husband’s Ex Getting Social Security Widow’s Benefits And I’m Not?

His Larry, I was married in 1982 to husband who passed away recently. I received Medicare from his work record. I had no income of my own, therefore receiving my Social Security spousal benefit check each month to pay bills. SSA told me will be receiving widow’s benefits. But I’ve got no letter. My husband’s ex got a letter and they were divorced for 40 years after being married for 10 years. Why is the ex getting these benefits while I’m getting nothing after 37 yrs of marriage? Thanks, Karen

Hi Karen, I’m sorry for your loss. The fact that your husband’s ex-wife is entitled to benefits on his record has absolutely no effect on either your eligibility for widow’s benefits or your benefit rate. It sounds like you’ve filed for widow’s benefits and that Social Security is apparently processing your claim, so you’ll probably just need to be patient for a while longer. You may want to check with Social Security to see if they can give you a status report on your claim. Best, Larry

Can I Be Called A Common-Law Wife And Get Spousal Benefits?

HI Larry, I started living with my ex-partner since April 2008 up to Aug 2018. We are no longer together but do I have the right to be called his coming-law wife and can I get a spousal benefit on his record? Thanks, Lauren

Hi Lauren, If you’ve always lived together in California, then you probably wouldn’t qualify as a common-law spouse. Social Security recognizes state laws when deciding whether or not a person legally qualifies as a spouse, and California doesn’t recognize common-law marriages. I’m not a lawyer, though, so you may want to check if there may be exceptions. Best, Larry

Will My Social Security Retirement Benefit Be Reduced If I Receive Any Of My Husband’s Pension?

Hi Larry. I receive my Social Security retirement benefit based on a public sector career. My husband worked both public and private sectors. He receives a reduced Social Security retirement benefit and a fireman’s pension. I will receive 40% of his pension. Will my retirement benefit be reduced if I receive any of his pension? Thanks, Jennifer

Hi Jennifer, It won’t be reduced. Receipt of a spousal or survivor benefit from a pension program that’s based on your spouse’s work and earnings would have no effect on your Social Security benefits. Best, Larry

What Am I Supposed To Do With My Granddaughters’ Benefits?

Hi Larry, I am retired and we have adopted our two granddaughters. I am receiving social security for myself and both my granddaughters. I don’t understand why I am receiving their social security also and how I am supposed to use it. Am I supposed to give it to them, save it for them or use it to help raise them? My granddaughter thinks they should get it to spend or save however they want. She doesn’t think we should use any of it for monthly expenses, etc. Your help would be appreciated. Thanks, Nick

Hi Nick, If you’ve been appointed by Social Security as the representative payee for your grandchildren’s benefits, then you are required to use their benefits for their current needs or save any funds not required for their current needs. Current needs include the costs of food and shelter, so it would be proper to use their benefits for their share of the household expenditures where they’re living. Best, Larry

Can I Start Collecting My Widow’s Benefit Now At 64?

Hi Larry, I’m 64 and still working. Can I start collecting my widow’s benefit on my late husband’s earnings now? Thanks, Paula

Hi Paula, That probably depends on how much you’re earning. If you file for benefits in 2019 at 64, Social Security would withhold $1 of any Social Security benefits to which you’re entitled for each $2 that you earn in excess of $17,640 this year. That could mean withholding all of your benefits or only part of your benefits depending on the amount of your earnings and your monthly benefit rate.

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches its highest potential rate. You may want to use one of my company’s two tools — Maximize My Social Security or 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

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

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