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Widower Will First Receive Own Social Security Benefit
Q: I know Social Security pays benefits to widows. But how about widowers? If my wife dies, will I receive any monthly allotment on her Social Security account?
A: Only if her Social Security retirement benefit exceeds yours. Or to put it another way, only if your wife made more money than you did, thus making you partially dependent on her income.
As in all cases, the government will pay your own Social Security retirement benefit first. Then it will look to see if that benefit can be augmented with anything you might be due as a dependent on your wife's account. For example, let's say you get $1,500 per month from Social Security and your wife gets $2,000 per month. If she dies, you'll continue to receive your $1,500 benefit, but you will get a supplemental $500 monthly widower's payment on your wife's Social Security record.
Even if you don't qualify for monthly widower's benefits, you will be paid the miserly $255 death benefit that the government pays to most surviving spouses. And don't get me going on the stinginess of that particular Social Security handout.
Q: I am 65 years old. My husband is 69. Could I file for wife's benefits on my husband's Social Security record at 66, and then switch to my own Social Security at age 69 or 70? I understand I would get higher Social Security benefits if I do that.
A: The normal Social Security rule says that if you file for spousal benefits, you must file for your own retirement benefits at the same time.
But there is an exception to that rule for people who are over their "full retirement age." (That's age 66 for most people.) So, if you wait until age 66, and assuming that for the next several years you will be able to get by on one-half of your husband's Social Security benefits — the rate you'd be due filing as a wife on your husband's record — then you can do as you plan.
You should go over the numbers with the folks at your local Social Security office to determine the optimum time to make the switch from wife's benefits to your own retirement benefits.
Q: I am about to turn 65 and will go on Medicare. My wife is only 63. She has never worked, so she has earned no Social Security or Medicare coverage on her own record. She is severely disabled. Is there any way she can get Medicare on my record when I turn 65?
A: I'm afraid not. The only people who can receive Medicare before age 65 are those who qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But your wife isn't eligible for those benefits because she never worked or paid Social Security taxes.
Because she is over age 62, she will be eligible for monthly cash benefits as a wife on your Social Security record. And she eventually will get Medicare coverage on your record, but not until she turns 65.
There is a slight chance she might be eligible for Medicaid. That's the welfare version of Medicare; it is available to disabled people under age 65. But in most states, to get Medicaid you must qualify for Supplemental Security Income payments. And your combined income and assets would have to be quite low to receive SSI. (I can't tell you how low because the rules vary from state to state.) Contact your local Social Security office to find out if your wife qualifies for SSI and the corresponding Medicaid coverage.
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