March 25, 2015 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
Question on Remarriage and Survivor Benefits

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We received a question from a listener regarding the effects of remarriage on survivor benefits.  As this is a common scenario when a widow/widower decides to remarry we wanted to cover her question publicly for the benefit of others.  I have paraphrased her question here:

“I’m approaching my 60th birthday and plan on applying for survivor benefits at that time based on my deceased husband’s record.  Am I able to continue to collect these benefits if I remarry after the age of 60?  And would my new spouse’s income have any effect on the amount of my benefit?”

The first part is pretty straight forward.  As long as you remarry after age 60 (age 50 if disabled) you have the right to collect survivor’s benefits from your deceased spouse’s record.  This is true whether or not you have already begun to receive these benefits before getting married.  For instance, as long as you remarry after age 60 you could choose to wait until later to claim in order to receive a higher benefit since claiming at 60 would permanently reduce the amount you collect each month.  You would also have the right to instead receive a spousal benefit on your new spouse’s record once you reach age 62.  Since the spousal benefit is based on ½ your spouse’s benefit and survivor benefits are based on the worker’s full benefit it is unlikely the spousal benefit will be a better option, but it is possible if your new spouse earned much more during their working years than your previous spouse.  These topics have been covered in more detail in previous blog posts.  If you are interested in that detail, just search for “Survivor” or “Spousal” benefits in the search box on the blog website.

The second part of the question is a less talked about part of the story.  The good news is that your new spouse’s income will have no effect on your benefit directly.  That is to say that your new spouse’s income is not considered in the “Earnings Test” that can reduce your benefit prior to your Full Retirement Age (FRA).  However, if you are married filing a joint tax return your spouse’s income DOES get considered in the calculation determining the taxation of your SS benefits.  So while only your income is considered for the Earnings Test, both your incomes go into the taxation calculation.  So it is possible that your new joint income may make a larger portion of your SS benefit taxable than if you remained unmarried.  Without knowing more detail it is impossible to say if this would be the case, but the possibility certainly exists.

Thanks for reading and please do not hesitate to send us your questions since as you can see here, sometimes they make for very informative blog posts!!

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