Q: I'm part of a group of old geezers who gets together every week at the local coffee place. Social Security is a frequent topic of conversation. At our last meeting, the subject of benefits for divorcees came up.
One of our geezers was married to his first wife for 16 years and to his second wife for 30 years. His first wife remarried, but she is now divorced from that guy after 20 years of marriage. If our geezer pal dies, who will get what? He's mostly wondering if his first wife will get Social Security from him or from her second husband.
A: Well, the answer depends on a lot of ifs, ands or buts not made clear in your email to me — like people's ages and Social Security benefit rates. So I'll make up a scenario to give you an example of how all this would play out.
We've got four people:
— Geezer is 68 years old and gets $2,100 per month from Social Security.
— Princess, his current wife, is 62 and gets her own Social Security retirement benefit amounting to $900 per month.
— Floozie, Geezer's first wife, is 66, and she gets $1,200 per month in her own Social Security retirement checks.
— Wheezer is Floozie's second husband and the guy she divorced after 20 years of marriage. Let's say he is 70, still living, and gets $2,200 per month from Social Security.
Now let's say Geezer dies, and we'll see what happens. Princess has a couple of choices to make. If she wants, she can immediately switch to widow's benefits. She'd keep getting her own retirement check, which would be supplemented up to about 82 percent of his full rate, or about $1,722. So she'd get $900 on her own account and $822 in widow's benefits.
Or she can opt to continue receiving just her $900 retirement check for now, and then at age 66 get that supplemented up to Geezer's full rate. So at age 66, she'll get her own $900, plus $1,200 in widow's benefits, for a total of $2,100. And no matter which decision she makes, she'd get the one-time $255 death benefit.
Floozie is also eligible for widow's benefits on Geezer's record because she was married to him for more than 10 years and because she is currently unmarried. Since she is over 66, her own retirement benefit can be supplemented up to Geezer's full rate. So she'll continue to get her own $1,200 per month, and she'll get $900 from Geezer's account to take her up to Geezer's full $2,100 benefit rate. (And please note that anything paid to Floozie, the divorced wife, doesn't take a nickel away from the benefits due to Princess.)
Floozie isn't due anything on second husband Wheezer's Social Security account — at least not while he's still living. She's technically due a divorced wife's benefit (at a 50 percent rate) on his record, but she can't get that because her own benefit, $1,200, exceeds half his rate, or $1,100. And of course, now that we also add in Geezer's widow's benefit, her combined Social Security benefits greatly exceed anything she is due from Wheezer.
However, when Wheezer dies, she can then switch to divorced widow's benefits on his record. Her checks from Geezer would stop. And her own $1,200 retirement benefit would be supplemented with $1,000 from Wheezer's record to take her total income up to $2,200.
Is the moral of this story to be a Floozie, dump a Geezer, marry a Wheezer, dump him too and hope they both die — and then watch the checks roll in? You tell me!