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Family's Benefits Subject to Maximum Limit
Q: I am a 44-year-old widow. I have two young children, ages 5 and 8, who are getting monthly benefits on their deceased father's Social Security account. I currently work full time. I would like to be able to stay home as a full- time mom to care for my kids. If I quit my job, would I be eligible for Social Security widow's benefits?
A: As a young widow with minor children in your care, you are technically eligible for what the Social Security Administration calls "mother's benefits." Whether or not you receive those benefits depends on a provision of the law that sets a maximum amount that can be paid to any one family.
You said your two children already get monthly survivor benefits from Social Security. It usually takes about three people on an account to reach the maximum benefit limit. So, if you were added to the account, you should be due some extra money.
However, if you had three or more children, you would not be due any benefits because your family would already be receiving the maximum payout. Or to put it another way, adding you to an account with, for example, four kids already on it would merely be splitting the same-size pot five ways instead of four.
Again, with only two kids, there is still room for you on the account before it hits the maximum limit. How much you'll get depends on the maximum amount due on your husband's Social Security record, but it should be an amount pretty close to what each of your kids already receives. You can learn the exact sum by contacting your local Social Security office.
I'm sure whatever the amount is, it won't come close to replacing the salary you'll give up by quitting your job. But perhaps the satisfaction you'll receive from being a full-time mom will make up for your leaner family income.
Q: I am a 48-year-old widow. I used to receive widow's benefits and my three children got survivor's benefits from their deceased father's Social Security record. I remarried awhile back and my benefits stopped. And two of my kids are now off the Social Security rolls because they are over 18.
I am separated from my second husband and am thinking about getting a divorce. Part of that decision depends on whether or not I can go back on my first husband's Social Security and get widow's benefits again. I asked one Social Security representative, and she told me I can. But I asked another representative who said I have to wait until I'm 60. Can you please help?
A: If your second marriage ends, you will be eligible once again for "mother's benefits" (benefits paid to widows with minor children in their care) IF your youngest child is under age 16. Once he or she turns 16, the child is no longer considered a "minor child" for Social Security purposes, and you would not be eligible for mother's benefits.
If that's the case, then you would have to wait until age 60 to collect regular widow's benefits on your first husband's Social Security record. By the way, that youngest child will continue to receive benefits until he or she turns 18.
Q: I am 64 years old and receive Social Security retirement benefits. My ex-husband recently died at the age of 64. We were married for 27 years before getting a divorce about 10 years ago. Neither of us remarried. He never collected Social Security, although he worked and paid Social Security taxes all his life. He always made a lot more money than I did. Am I eligible for widow's benefits on his record?
A: I think you will be eligible for divorced widow's benefits. But, of course, that opinion is based only on the information you provided. The key things you told me are: 1) that you were married for more than 10 years; 2) that you did not remarry; and 3) that he made more money than you did. Those three factors all point toward your eligibility for divorced widow's benefits.
But you'll have to check with the Social Security Administration to find out if you're actually due any extra benefits. They will also be able to go over the numbers with you. They can help you decide if you should switch to reduced divorced widow's benefits now, or wait until you turn 66 to get full benefits on your ex-husband's record.
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