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Disability benefits are for widows but not for wives
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Q: My mother is 60 years old and disabled. She was a stay-at-home mom all her life, so she has no Social Security of her own. She was married to my father for 25 years but he died a long time ago. She remarried, and that marriage lasted 15 years before they got a divorce. Her second husband is 67 years old and retired. He was a lawyer and made a good living. My mom spent many hours filling out disability forms, and has all kinds of documentation from doctors indicating she is disabled. She took them to the Social Security office to file for benefits as a disabled ex-wife of the lawyer. They told her filling out the forms was a waste of time. They said all she is due is a widow's pension from my dad's Social Security record. He made nowhere near as much money as the lawyer, so his Social Security account is smaller. Because they were married for over 10 years, why can't my mom get disability benefits from her well-to-do second husband?

A: She can't get disability from her second husband because there is no Social Security coverage for a disabled wife — or ex-wife. Given your mom's age and lack of her own Social Security coverage, the fact that your mom is disabled is not an issue for Social Security purposes. Let's review your mom's options.

She will never be eligible for any kind of Social Security on her own record, including disability benefits, because she never worked and paid into the system.

Because she was married to the lawyer (husband number two) for more than 10 years, she is potentially due benefits on his record, but not until she is at least 62 years old. At that point, she would be due about 35 percent of his basic Social Security benefit, if that pays a higher rate than what she's due on your father's record.

Because she is 60 years old, your mother is currently due reduced widow's benefits on your father's Social Security account. The rate would be about 70 percent of your father's basic Social Security benefit. Although a wife (or divorced wife) cannot get disability benefits, a disabled widow can. But the rate payable to her as a disabled widow on your father's record is the same (70 percent) as what she's due based solely on her age. So there is no point in filing for disability benefits.

Just remember that when she turns 62, she should check into divorced wife's benefits from husband number two. My hunch is she will still get more money from your dad — because 70 percent of his is probably more than 35 percent of the lawyer's benefit. However, when the lawyer dies, she should apply for divorced widow's benefits on his more generous Social Security account. If she is over age 66 when that happens, she'd get 100 percent of his rate.

Q: I am 67 years old and still working. And of course I have Medicare payroll taxes withheld from my paychecks. But I am on Social Security and Medicare, and as such I have Medicare premiums deducted from my Social Security check. Why do I have this double withholding for Medicare?

A: The Medicare payroll tax deducted from your paycheck and the Medicare premium withheld from your Social Security check pay for two different parts of Medicare.

The payroll tax is used to fund Part A of the Medicare program. Part A generally covers inpatient hospital costs. You may have noticed that you don't pay any monthly premiums for Part A now that you're on Medicare.

The Medicare premium withheld from your Social Security check pays for the Part B section of the program. Part B generally covers visits to the doctor, lab fees and other medical expenses.

So you really weren't the victim of "double withholding." Again, each deduction is paying for a different part of Medicare.

By the way, have you ever checked if you really need the Part B of Medicare? As a general rule, if you are working and covered by your employer's health insurance, you don't need Medicare Part B — meaning you could be saving $104.90 per month if you drop that coverage. And later, when you retire and lose your employer's regular insurance coverage, you can reapply for Part B and you won't pay any penalties that usually go along with delayed enrollment in the program.

Q: I get a small Social Security pension that is offset by a federal disability pension that I receive. Could you look up my records and tell me what the full amount of my Social Security would be if it were not for the federal pension?

A: No, I can't do that. Every once in a while I have to remind my readers that I do not currently work for the Social Security Administration. I retired about eight years ago following a 32-year career with SSA. And guess what? They didn't allow me to take their computer records with me!

I can answer any general questions you might have about Social Security programs and policies. But I can't work on individual cases or look up anyone's private Social Security records. To get someone to do that, you'll have to contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213.