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Social Security: 1 Reason You Should Think Twice Before Getting Legally Remarried

If you're either divorced or have lost your former spouse, then it's important to know the impact that a remarriage will have on your Social Security survivors benefits.

I was prompted to address this after receiving the following question from a reader:

A friend of mine never collected a dime of Social Security from her first husband's salary. Her first husband died and they were married long enough to have grown children at the time of his death. She subsequently remarried before she turned 60. Is she not eligible for survival benefits based off her first husband's work history, or has the Social Security Administration made a mistake?

When are you eligible for survivors benefits?
As a general rule, the eligibility for survivors benefits is straightforward. Namely, a widow or widower is eligible to receive full survivors benefits at his or her full retirement age -- at present, this is 66 years old.

Unlike ordinary Social Security retirement benefits, which kick in at age 62, you can take survivors benefits as early as age 60. But doing so will reduce the size of the monthly benefit by a predetermined amount depending on how early they are applied for.

The same rules apply, moreover, for divorced spouses. That is, if your former spouse dies, you can receive survivors benefits based on their work history. The only catch is that you must have been married for at least 10 years prior to the divorce.

What happens if you get remarried?
All of the rules I've noted assume that you're not remarried. If you are, on the other hand, then there are a couple of specific things you need to know.

If the remarriage occurred after you turned 60, then you're in the clear. According to the SSA's website: "If your widow or widower remarries after they reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), the remarriage will not affect their eligibility for survivors benefits."

However, if you remarried prior to turning 60, and have stayed remarried, then you're no longer eligible for survivors benefits tied to your former spouse's work history. Again, here's the official explanation from the SSA: "If your widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse remarries before he or she reaches age 60 (age 50 if disabled), they cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse while he or she is married."

If the subsequent marriage also ends through either death or divorce, then you once again become eligible for survivors benefits stemming from the former marriage.

In short, what matters is whether you're remarried at the time you apply for spousal benefits.

How to get even more income during retirement
Social Security plays a key role in your financial security, but it's not the only way to boost your retirement income. In our brand-new free report, our retirement experts give their insight on a simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule that can help ensure a more comfortable retirement for you and your family. Click here to get your copy today.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2014, at 10:06 PM, tx2stepping wrote:

    Please do some research and talk about the "windfall" and "offset" rules, meant to keep high retirement income from retirement, but really hurts those of us who receive small retirement. That formula needs to be changed. I lost all of my SS from my x-husband and all but $95 of my own SS.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2014, at 7:11 AM, mooneybluesj wrote:

    Always an incomplete story. A divorced male remarries a person who at the time of the marriage is under 60. The former spouse remarried and was under 60. The former spouse does not receive the benefits of her former husband but can receive her own benefits or half (possibly adjusted for her age) of her current husband.. If her current husband dies she can claim his benefits.

    Now back to the first case the new spouse can start her own benefits say at age 62. If her current husband dies she can claim his full benefits despite her starting her own benefits early. Very complicated stuff so go to your local SS office and run your own scenario by an agent.

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John Maxfield

John is The Motley Fool's senior banking specialist. If you're interested in banking and/or finance, you should follow him on Twitter.

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