Q. I am divorced and collecting Social Security. What are the eligibility requirements for my new wife if I get remarried?
A. After one year of marriage, your wife would be eligible for a Social Security spouse benefit based upon your Social Security earnings record, assuming she had reached retirement age. If your wife were also eligible for her own Social Security benefit, she would receive whichever is the greater amount — her benefit or a spouse benefit. The one-year marriage requirement for a spouse benefit is waived if, by remarriage, your wife forfeited a divorced spouse benefit based on a prior husband’s Social Security earnings record. This is equally true for husband or wife.
Q. My 82-year-old mother is living at a seniors housing apartment in another state. She has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is getting progressively worse. She will soon need a home where she can be taken care of. I am retired, living on a fixed income, and am unable to personally care for her. What, if any, options do I have for her and where do I start?
A. You need the help of Eldercare Locator. The national number is 1-800-677-1116. It is available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging and is administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the National Association of State Units on Aging. The services provided are designed for situations like you face.
Eldercare Locator service representatives can put you in touch with local resources in the community where your mother resides. For example, they could help you identify a case manager who could assess your mother’s needs and, hopefully, guide you and any other family members in making a long-term care decision that is best for all. Alternatively, they might suggest full- or part-time homemaker services such as shopping, cleaning and cooking if your mother does not need full-time care at the present time.
Q. I will be turning age 65 soon and I want to apply for my Social Security benefits. How do I do this, and what papers will I need?
A. You should apply not more than 3 months before you want benefits to begin. There are a number of options for applying for Social Security benefits. If you want to schedule an appointment to apply in person at a local office or to apply over the telephone, you can call your local office or the Social Security Administration’s toll-free telephone number, which is 1-800-777-1213. You can also apply online at www.ssa.gov. Click on Retirement at the top right and follow the instructions for completing your application. The Social Security Administration may ask for the following documentation: Your Social Security card (or a record of your Social Security number), your original birth certificate or other proof of birth, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S., a copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) (e.g., DD-214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) if you had military service before 1968, and a copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.
Q. I’m 5 years older than my wife. We’re both still working and planning to continue for 3 or 4 more years. I’ve worked continuously and have a higher income. I want to ensure my wife receives the largest monthly payment if I die before we both reach 70. If I never claim, could she claim my “70-year-old” benefit when she reaches 70?
A. Should you predecease your wife, she would have the option of which benefit to begin first — her own benefit or her widow benefit. She would maximize her widow benefit by waiting until she reached full retirement age to apply for widow benefits. Under current law, she would gain no increase by deferring benefits beyond her full retirement age.
Q. Other than age at the time of retirement, how is the amount you receive in benefits determined?
A. Social Security benefits are based on an average of virtually a full work life of earnings from which FICA payroll contributions have been withheld. When you apply for benefits, the Social Security Administration will index your old earnings to bring them up to date. From your lifetime indexed earnings, the 35 highest years of earnings will be selected. If you have more than 35 years of Social Security earnings, the lowest years will be disregarded; if you have fewer than 35 years, some zero years will be included in the calculation. Your benefit (known as your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA) will be determined from the monthly indexed average. The PIA is the benefit payable if you begin benefits in the month you reach full retirement age. The benefit payable is reduced for months of early retirement or increased for deferred retirement.
Q. I will be 62 in March. I have a child who has been disabled since birth. He began to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits when he turned 18. When I start Social Security, will I get extra money for him?
A. When you are eligible for a Social Security benefit, your disabled child will be eligible for a dependent benefit on your record. However, because SSI is an assistance benefit based on need, your child’s SSI will likely be reduced when he becomes entitled to Social Security. You might find helpful the Social Security Administration publication “Understanding the Benefits.” This issue brief gives a good description of dependent benefits for family members. Go to the Social Security website (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10024.html) and click on the Benefits for your family link on page 3.
Q. I am eligible for benefits; my husband does not have enough credits. I know he will receive survivor benefits if I die, but does he receive any income if both are alive?
A. When you apply for your Social Security benefit to begin, your husband could become eligible for a Social Security spouse benefit if he is at least 62. At 65, he will be eligible for Medicare based on your Social Security earnings record. Upon your death, your husband will be eligible for a surviving spouse benefit (i.e. widower benefit). Whether a spouse or widower benefit is payable depends on your husband’s earned retirement benefits. If, for example, he receives a pension based on non-Social Security government employment, any spousal benefit he is otherwise entitled to receive will be reduced by two-thirds of his government pension. An issue brief discussing this provision of law can be found here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10007.html.