published Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Social Security: Could three wives draw on man's work record?

By Martin Coffey

We appreciate Ms. F. who emailed multiple questions, many of which were related to benefits that a spouse may be entitled to receive.

Q: "Can three wives who have been married to the same man, for 10 or more years, each draw the same amount of Social Security benefits?"

A: Yes, however, the eligibility and benefit amount that each wife and former wife can receive is based on the following factors:

* Whether or not the husband is living or deceased;

* The age of the wife or former wife

* The current marital status of the former wife, unless she remarried after age 60 or after age 50 if disabled

* The number of children, if any, drawing on the record.

Remember the benefit amounts talked about in each question could vary due to the different circumstances.

Q: "Does the husband have to be drawing Social Security benefits before the wife can draw from him?"

A: Yes, if you are married, your spouse has to be drawing benefits for you to be entitled to receive benefits from his record. Note: At age 65 if you are uninsured and your spouse has still not filed for benefits then you could file on his record for Medicare only.

Q: "Can someone begin drawing Social Security benefits while they are still employed?"

A: Yes, but there are specific rules for someone working and receiving retirement benefits: If you are under full retirement age, you have an annual earnings limit of $14,160. If you go over that limit, you will have to pay back $1 for every $2 that you exceed the limit.

Note: Sometimes people who retire in mid-year already have earned more than the yearly earnings limit. In this case, we would apply a special monthly earnings amount, which means you could get a Social Security check for any month that you earned $1,180 or less.

This is a special rule that applies to only one year, usually the first year of retirement; secondly, the year you turn your full retirement age you are allowed to earn $37,680 through the month before you reach full retirement age.

If you go over $37,680, you will have to pay back $1 for every $3 earned above that amount. The month you reach full retirement age there is no longer a limit.

Q: "If a wife is drawing Social Security benefits from her husband and he dies, are her benefits increased? If so, what percentage is the increase?"

A: Yes, the wife's benefits will increase to an amount between 71-99 percent of her deceased husband's benefit. The increased percentage is based on the following factors: 1. Whether her husband received a reduced benefit or a full benefit; and 2. The wife's age at the time of her husband's death.

For more information, you may visit our website at www.socialsecurity.com and look for SSA Publications No. 05-10035 and No. 05-10084 or call us at 866-964-0029.

Get answers to your Social Security questions each Thursday from the Social Security District Director Martin Coffey. Submit questions by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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