Q. Hi, I am a widow. Can I receive my own Social Security benefit before full retirement age (FRA) and then switch to my late husband’s benefit at FRA and receive his full benefit?

A. The answer to each of your questions is yes. As a widow, you have the choice of which benefit to begin first — your own Social Security benefit or your widow benefit. You may switch from one to the other when it is most advantageous for you to do so.

Before applying for benefits, you will want to contact the Social Security Administration and obtain up-to-date estimates of the benefits payable on your own and on your deceased husband’s earnings record. Ask for estimates at age 60, 62, full retirement age and age 70. That information will help you make the decision that is in your long-term best interest.

If you are in the work force, you may begin benefits while continuing to work, but Social Security beneficiaries who are less than full retirement age are subject to an annual earnings limitation. In 2020 the limitation will increase to $18,240. The Social Security Administration must withhold $1 in benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.


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 8:00 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 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 on your Social Security earnings record, assuming she had reached retirement age. If your wife also were 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. I am 59 years old and I have been on Social Security Disability and Medicare for 12 years. What will happen to my payment when I reach full retirement age? Also, when I die, will my wife be entitled to my benefits? She is 56 and is receiving a pension from the state. Will that make a difference?

A. When you reach full retirement age, your Social Security benefit will continue uninterrupted. The only difference will be an in-house bookkeeping change at Social Security Administration headquarters. Disability Insurance benefits are paid from the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund; retirement benefits are paid from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund. At age 65 your wife will be entitled to Medicare based on your Social Security earnings record. She will be eligible for a spouse benefit as early as age 62, but whether any spouse benefit will be payable depends on the amount of her own public pension. Your wife’s right to a spousal benefit is subject to the Government Pension Offset provision of Social Security law. This provision requires the reduction or offset of any Social Security spouse or widow benefit otherwise payable by two-thirds of any pension earned from non-Social Security covered government employment. An issue brief discussing the Government Pension Offset can be found on the Social Security website.

The National Committee has long supported repeal of unfair Social Security offset provisions or, at a bare minimum, relief from their most serious inequities. For more information, read our policy paper on government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions.


Q. I am single and will be eligible to receive Social Security as of next January. Will I have to pay income tax on this?

A. All Social Security benefits are subject to Federal income taxation. Whether any tax is due depends on all of your other income. For specific information on taxation of Social Security benefits, call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-3676 or go online to the IRS website and read or download publication No. 915.


Q. Do the earnings of your final ten years of employment have any special bearing on your Social Security benefits once you retire?

A. Final years of earnings have no special significance. Earnings prior to age 60 are indexed to bring them up-to-date. Actual earnings from age 60 on are included in the benefit calculation. Benefits are determined on the basis of the highest 35 years of indexed or actual earnings. It does not matter when those years of earnings occur.


Q. About a year ago I purchased a new car. The Credit Union (after a credit check) asked, “Did you know someone else is using your Social Security number?” I called the local Social Security office and was told, “You will have to pursue this on your own. There are no laws on taking on someone else’s ID?” Can you possibly give me some advice on where to pursue this?

A. Depending on the extent to which your identity has been compromised, you may need the help of the Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. The Social Security Administration has an online publication on Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number. Go to http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html#contacting for information and advice.


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.