What happens to Social Security when you go to prison?

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Q. I’m 69 and I started collecting Social Security 2012 after losing my job to downsizing. After that, my husband, who was 71, went to prison for 10 years. He had been collecting Social Security, but it was suspended when he went away. I receive about $120 per month of his benefit now. If he dies before his release, what happens to my benefit?
— Wife

A. Social Security has a publication that specifically deals with what happens to benefits when someone is incarcerated.

“No benefits are payable for any month in which you are in jail, prison, or certain other public institutions,” Social Security said.  “Your benefits will be suspended if you’re convicted of a criminal offense and sent to jail or prison for more than 30 continuous days.”

As you said, benefits can be reinstated once someone is released.

The good news for family members is that their benefits wouldn’t be affected.

Survivor benefits will be available to you regardless of whether your husband passes while incarcerated or after his release, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

“Once Social Security has been notified of the death, you should contact them, either by phone or in person to initiate the process of switching your benefit over,” Mott said. “Survivor benefits will be based on your current age, not the date you began receiving a spousal benefit.”

Because you have attained full retirement age (FRA), the benefit you receive will be 100% of your husband’s payment amount, despite it currently being suspended, she said.

That’s assuming his benefit would have been higher than your current benefit.

Email your questions to moc.p1594387331leHye1594387331noMJN1594387331@ksA1594387331.

This story was originally published on Feb. 10, 2020

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