Life has a way of throwing us curveballs.
The unexpected death of a spouse—or a divorce—can certainly wreak havoc on your emotions. It can also throw a wrench in your finances.
If you are age 62 or older, here are some Social Security basics to bear in mind as you regain your financial footing or make contingency plans.
Survivor benefits. If you find yourself widowed after at least one year of marriage, then you are eligible to receive monthly survivor payments.
Did you also work outside the home? If so, you can choose the higher of the two benefits: yours personally; or as a surviving spouse.
Before deciding, confirm the amount for each one for three points in time: collecting now; waiting until age 70; or at your designated retirement age (as determined by Social Security). While you cannot receive both benefits at the same time, you can strategically claim the highest one now and then switch to the one that becomes higher later.
Spousal benefits. A divorce does not erase the contribution you made to the household. As a formerly married spouse, you are eligible for Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your breadwinning partner. As long as you were married for 10 years or more, you have earned spousal benefits.
Receiving spousal benefits does not affect what your ex will receive from Social Security. What's more, your ex does not need to know, give permission, or sign any papers. All you need to provide is the marriage certificate, divorce papers, and your ex's full name.
If you were also employed and are eligible for your own Social Security benefits, investigate which benefit will pay more: now; when you turn 70; or at your designated retirement age. Unlike survivor benefits, you cannot switch benefits at a later date. Decide when is the best time to apply, and choose the larger amount.
It's important to make a fact-based decision. The difference in monthly payments, added up over many years, could mean there are thousands of dollars at stake. There are many more details than we can cover here, including information about benefits in same-sex marriages. Consider working with a certified financial planner who can run the various calculations for you and suggest the wisest strategy. There's too much to lose to depend on Social Security staff for detailed guidance.
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Let us help you get reoriented. Give us a call: 203-826-9206.
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Leslie Alin Tewes is a Geriatric, Disability & Medical Care Manager; Elder and Adult Care Advocate; Quality Improvement Specialist.