Ask Larry: Should My Widow’s Benefit Rate Go Up Now That My Husband’s Ex Has Died?

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Today’s column addresses questions about whether widow’s benefits increase when a late spouse’s previous spouse passes away and no longer collects on the late spouse’s record, whether it’s possible to change when checks arrive and taking spousal benefits before retirement benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Should My Widow’s Benefit Rate Go Up Now That My Husband’s Ex Has Died?

Hi Larry, My husband was divorced after 33 years of marriage. We were married 15 years when he passed about seven years ago. His previous wife and I both received Social Security benefits on his record.

I’ve learned that she has recently passed away. Does that affect the amount of the Social Security widow’s benefit I receive? Does my amount increase now that I’m the only one drawing on my late husband’s record? Thanks, Liz


Hi Liz, I’m sorry for your loss.

Your widow’s benefit will not increase now that your husband’s ex has passed. Auxiliary and survivor benefits paid to a divorced spouse are not counted toward the family maximum benefit (FMB)

that can be paid on a worker’s record.

So divorced spousal and divorced survivor benefits have no adverse effect on the benefit rate of another spouse, divorced spouse, widow or surviving divorced spouse who are drawing benefits on the same worker’s record. And since any benefits that your husband’s ex drew from his record had no adverse effect on your benefit rate while she was living, her death would have no effect on your benefit rate. Best, Larry

Can I Change The Day Of The Month That I’m Paid Benefits?

Hello Larry, My bills come monthly but I get Social Security on the 2nd Wednesday of the month which means that four out of 12 months I receive my payment at five week intervals. This causes me a hardship. Is there and recourse for this? Getting a check every five weeks is tough. Thanks, Shelly

Hi Shelly, It’s not possible to change the date your check arrives. Since May 1997, the day that a person’s Social Security payment is made on is determined by their day of birth.

Workers born in the first 10 days of a month are paid on the second Wednesday of each month. Workers born in the second 10 days of a month are paid on the third Wednesday, and workers born after the 20th of a month are paid on the fourth Wednesday. So there’s no way you can change which Wednesday of the month your checks arrive on, unfortunately. Best, Larry

Can I Draw Spousal Benefits At Age 62 And Claim My Own Benefits Later?

 Larry, I am 62 and still working part time. My husband is 73 and has been drawing Social Security since 62. I believe that my own Social Security retirement benefit amount would be higher than his. Can I draw on his record now with spousal benefits and then claim my own retirement benefits at full retirement age? I was confused by Social Security website because it sounds like if my benefits are higher than my husband’s, they would pay that amount and not let me claim spousal benefits. I hope you can help me. Thanks, Tara

Hi Tara, No one born after 1/1/1954 is allowed to file for spousal benefits while their spouse is living without also being required to file for their own retirement benefits at the same time. So when you file for either your own retirement benefits or for your spousal benefits, you can only qualify for essentially the higher of the two benefit rates, and your benefit rate will be reduced if you start drawing prior to your full retirement age (FRA).

Even if you were born prior to 1/2/1954 however, you couldn’t file for spousal benefits at 62 and then claim your own benefits later. People born prior to 1/2/1954 can only claim just spousal benefits without also being deemed to be filing for their own benefits is they file for the spousal benefits at FRA or later.

You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to you in order to determine your best strategy for maximizing benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

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