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Malti Patel
By MALTI PATEL - [email protected]

Q. How long must you be married to a spouse to collect benefits when the spouse dies?

A. Generally, a person can qualify for widow's or widower's benefits if he or she was married to the deceased worker for at least nine months just before the worker died. However, you do not need to be married to the worker for any specific length of time if:

" You are the biological parent of the worker's biological child.

" You legally adopted the worker's child while you were married to him or her and before the child attained age 18.

" You are the parent of a child who was legally adopted by the worker while you and the worker were married and before the child attained age 18.

" You and the worker were married and both of you legally adopted a child under age 18.

" You were entitled or potentially entitled to spouse's, widow(er)'s, mother/father's, or parent's benefits, or to childhood disability benefits in the month before the month you married the deceased worker.

" You were entitled or potentially entitled to a widow(er)'s, child's (age 18 or over) or parent's insurance annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) in the month before you married the deceased worker.

" The worker was married previously to an institutionalized spouse, but was not allowed to divorce him or her under State law. After the spouse died, he or she married you within 60 days.

" You were married to the worker at the time his or her death and you had been married to and divorced from him or her before and the previous marriage lasted 9 months;

" The worker's death occurred in the line of duty while he or she was a member of a uniformed service serving on active duty; or

" The worker's death was accidental. (Note: The worker's death is considered "accidental" only if he or she received bodily injuries through violent, external and accidental means and, as a direct result of the bodily injuries and independent of all other causes, died within three months after the day he or she received the injuries.)

" If the worker could not reasonably have been expected to live for nine months at the time you married him or her, then you cannot qualify for benefits under the last three conditions.

Q. If I remarry, after being married 10 years, which spouse receives benefits?

A. A former spouse can receive benefits under the same circumstances as a current spouse or widow/widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse will not affect the benefit rates for other beneficiaries. Please note that in general, a person applying as a widow/widower cannot receive benefits if they remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled) unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment. However, remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) will not prevent payments on a former spouse's record.

Q. Both my husband and I work and pay Social Security taxes. On which record will my benefits be based?

A. If you're married, you can receive retirement benefits on your own record or spouse's benefits on your husband's record. If you've had high earnings, it's likely that your own benefits will be higher than a spouse's benefit on your husband's record. On the other hand, if you stopped work for several years or had low earnings, the spouse's benefit may be higher. People who are eligible for benefits on more than one record generally receive the larger benefit amount. SSA will pay you the benefits on your own record first. If the spouse's benefit is more, SSA will pay the difference on your husband's record to bring your total benefit up to the higher amount.

Q. If a spouse collects one-half of her husband's benefit, does that reduce the husband's benefit by one-half?

A. No. The receipt of spouse's benefits by a husband or wife does not reduce the benefit of the primary wage earner.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas 75002. Patel published a book, "Lifting the Mists: A simple guide to a complex welfare system for elderly immigrants and their families." Contact [email protected] to order the book.

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