Dear Liz: I am 66 and recently widowed after five years of marriage. I was married before and divorced after more than 20 years. I have paid to Social Security as a professional for 20 years. How do I determine how to apply for Social Security? Do I just have to apply for my benefit? Do I have to wait until I’m over 70? Do I have to apply for spousal maintenance and if so, for which spouse?
Answer: Let’s take that last question first. You are only eligible for spousal maintenance or divorce benefits if the employee whose file you would claim is still alive. The partner allowance can be up to half of what the employee would receive at full retirement age. If, on the other hand, the employee has died, you may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit, which can be as much as 100% of the employee’s benefit.
You can therefore qualify for three different types of benefits: your own pension benefit, a divorce benefit based on your ex’s file (because you were married for at least 10 years) and a survivor’s benefit based on your deceased spouse’s file (because you married for at least nine months at the time of his death). You normally lose the ability to claim divorce benefits when you remarry unless the second marriage ends in divorce, annulment, or death, as with yours.
Which one to claim and when depends on the details of your situation. You can call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 to get estimates of what you would get on each record. Consider using a paid service such as Social Security Solutions or Maximize My Social Security to help you find the best strategy for claiming benefits.
Dear Liz: I’ve enjoyed your columns on choices between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. I have a terminological question: What is the difference between a Medigap policy and an additional one? I have traditional Medicare and a supplemental plan, which covers the deductibles and deductibles that Medicare does not cover. According to your article, it appears that a Medigap policy does the same. Please clarify and keep it up.
Answer: Medigap and supplemental policy are two terms for the same product: an insurance policy sold by private insurers to cover the “gaps” in Medicare coverage. If you have traditional Medicare (also known as original Medicare), it is generally advisable to also have a supplemental Medigap policy.
However, you cannot get a Medigap policy if you have Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage is also offered by private insurers, but is intended to be an all-in-one alternative to traditional Medicare, rather than a supplement to it.
Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for: NerdWallet. Inquiries can be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “contact” form at asklizwestton.com.