I was married twice. What are my Social Security options?

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Q. I was married for 20 years and got divorced 11 years ago. I remarried eight years ago and was married for 11 years. My current husband just passed away. Would I now be eligible to collect Social Security on my ex-husband or on my current husband who just passed away?
— Single now

A. We’re sorry to hear about the loss of your husband.

We’re glad you’re aware that you have options for Social Security.

Depending on the circumstances and if and when you are eligible, you could be able to collect Social Security benefits in three different ways, said Amber Leach, a certified divorce financial analyst with Equitable Advisors/R.I.C.H. Planning Group in Morristown.

You could get a survivor benefit as a widow of your current husband and you could start collecting as early as age 60, or at age 50 if you’re disabled, she said.

Or, you may be eligible to collect from your ex-husband if you stay unmarried. If you are under age 60, then it is your marital status at the time you go to claim, not the fact that she once remarried.

Or you could collect based on your own work history.

And, she said, you can only collect one of the benefits at a time.

“Many people assume they can collect multiple benefits that they are entitled to but the Social Security Administration will only pay you one benefit at a time normally whichever is the highest amount,” she said. “You do however have the ability to switch from a survivor benefit to a retirement benefit. However, once you choose a retirement benefit, that is the one you will be locked into for the rest of your life.”

For example, she said, you will be eligible at age 60 to start collecting the survivor benefit when you are ineligible to collect any retirement benefit. When you turn 62 and are eligible to claim a reduced retirement benefit, you can compare your survivor benefit with your own benefit and see which is more.

Also consider timing and how the different benefits could grow.

“The retirement benefit from your husband will grow until your full retirement age. Your own retirement benefit will grow until you are age 70,” she said. “If you claim on one of your retirement benefit options before your full retirement age, you will receive a reduced benefit and be locked for that amount for the rest of your life so it is always prudent to evaluate your circumstances and see when it makes sense to switch from survivor benefit to retirement benefit.”

Once you claim your retirement benefit, that is the one you will be locked into. You cannot switch retirement benefits, she said.

“The option of when to switch from survivor to retirement benefit should come with a complete analysis of your financial and health situation,” she said. “You should always consult www.ssa.gov and call in to verify your eligibility and claim amounts based on all your circumstances.”

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This story was originally published on Jan. 27, 2022.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.