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Ten-Year Marriage Rule Applies Only to Divorcees
Q: Whenever you answer questions from women about their eligibility for benefits from their husband's Social Security account, you always fail to mention that they must be married for at least 10 years to qualify for spousal benefits. I know this for a fact because it applied to me when I tried to get my ex-husband's Social Security. Will you please start providing this information?
A: No, I won't start providing that information because it's wrong. The 10-year duration of marriage rule applies only to divorced women. In other words, in order to collect benefits as a divorced spouse on your ex-husband's Social Security account, the law says your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.
But if a woman is currently married to her husband, the rules generally say they must have been married for only a year or more. In the case of a widow (who was not divorced), the duration of marriage rule is usually nine months.
Q: I am 67 and getting Social Security. My wife is about to turn 62. Can she take wife's benefits on my record at age 62 and then switch to full benefits on her own record at 66?
A: No, she can't do that. The rules say (with one exception, which I'll explain in a minute) that if you apply for any kind of Social Security benefit before age 66, you must apply for all benefits you're eligible for at the same time. So when your wife turns 62, she'll have to file for her own Social Security retirement benefits. And if that benefit is low enough, it could be supplemented with a spousal benefit to take her total benefits up to an amount equal to about one-third of your Social Security rate.
And please note that I'm talking about someone applying for reduced benefits before age 66. If your wife waits until age 66 to file for Social Security, then she can restrict her application to one benefit or another. For example, she could file for benefits as a wife on your record at age 66, and then at age 70, switch to higher retirement benefits on her own record.
And about that exception I mentioned: it applies to widows.
Q: In recent columns, you've answered questions from people getting SSI who are about to inherit large sums of money. You essentially told them that the money will force them off of SSI. But you should have explained that they could set up a "special needs trust" and be able to keep their SSI. They should consult a lawyer to do this.
A: To help my other readers understand what we are talking about, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal welfare program that the Social Security Administration manages for the government. It pays a relatively small monthly benefit to people over 65 who are poor as well as to disabled people with limited means. And like any welfare program, a person's income and assets have to be under certain limits to qualify. (Those limits vary from state to state, which is why I can't give specific dollar amounts.) Because it's a welfare program, someone who inherits a lot of money would generally no longer be eligible for SSI.
When I worked for the Social Security Administration, I was never an SSI counselor. So, I don't know a lot about the program. But I do remember hearing the SSI representatives talking to people about setting up a "special needs trust." It's the kind of deal where a person on SSI who comes into some money can have another person essentially manage those assets, and the SSI beneficiary has only limited access to its funds — and thus remains on SSI.
With thanks to this alert reader, my message to folks on SSI who inherit, or otherwise get their hands on some money, is to make an appointment with an SSI representative at their local Social Security office and go over their options, including the special needs trust.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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