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The Remarriage Rule (Possibly the Dumbest Social Security Rule)

remarriageIf you’re familiar with the remarriage rule for Social Security survivor benefits, you likely know what I’m talking about. This is, in my opinion, quite possibly the dumbest rule that we have in the whole Social Security system. There are several really dumb rules, but this one takes the cake.

Briefly, here’s the remarriage rule: If you are a widow or widower who is otherwise eligible for survivor’s benefits from your late spouse, you must be unmarried as of reaching age 60 to actually receive the benefit. If you remarried even one day before reaching age 60 (and remain married) you are not eligible for survivor benefits. If you remarried the day after your 60th birthday, you’re still eligible to receive the survivor benefits based on your late spouse’s record.

Example of remarriage rule

Joan and Richard were married for 27 years when Richard died. Joan was 57 years old at the time of Richard’s passing. Upon reaching age 60, Joan will be eligible to receive a survivor’s benefit based on Richard’s record.

Joan met David when she was 59 years old, and the two plan to marry soon. The timing of this marriage is critical to Joan, as explained above. If Joan remarries before she reaches age 60, she loses her eligibility to receive the survivor’s benefit while she’s married to David. If she waits until some time after her 60th birthday, Joan will retain eligibility for the survivor benefit.

Likewise, if Joan’s (early) marriage to David ends, either through divorce or David’s death, Joan’s eligibility for the survivor benefit based on Richard’s record will be restored. In fact, if David has died, as long as he and Joan were married for at least 1 year (and still currently married upon David’s passing), Joan will be eligible for survivor benefits on either Richard’s or David’s record, whichever is more advantageous to her.

What does this rule protect?

What exactly are we trying to resolve with this rule? I can’t for the life of me figure that one out – except that apparently we want to provide disincentive for widow(er)s to remarry prior to age 60. If anyone in readerland has other ideas for the value of this rule, I’d love to hear them!

I doubt seriously if this particular rule results in much benefit to the bottom line for Social Security as a system. But what it does is to cause much confusion for individuals who could be affected by it. I’ve heard from more than one individual who made changes to their remarriage plans because of the rule.

Plus, I’ve also heard from multiple individuals who were planning a quiet divorce in order to get around the rule. This could be done, restoring eligibility, and then after at least 12 months has passed the two could be remarried again (as long as the widow(er) is over age 60).

In a system that’s fraught with much confusion and complexity, it’s my opinion that this is a rule we could definitely do without, and no one would be harmed for the lack of it. What do you think?

5 Comments

  1. Laura Digan says:

    This rule is covers those who have lost a spouse or an ex-spouse that has not remarried. Many widows due to loss of a spouse can find themselves inadequately prepared for funding in retirement. Opting to get the benefit does put a limit on annual income. This limit on earning income while receiving benefits doesn’t help the higher tax bracket widows but rather may be successful in really benefitting those widows who may be in need as a result of loss of a working spouse over past years.

    1. jblankenship says:

      On the contrary: this rule specifically eliminates benefits for a widow(er) who has chosen to remarry before the arbitrary age of 60.

      Remarriage after age 60? No remarriage at all? This rule doesn’t apply to either situation.

  2. Master Duke says:

    Totally agree with you. The fact people quietly divorce and remarry shows that it doesn’t make sense even more lol.

  3. Lynne says:

    As a single person who will never benefit in any way from all the claiming strategies benefiting married couples, I would rather see everyone getting social security on their own record. Much simpler, and more fair.

  4. etozier24 says:

    I agree with you, I think it’s kind of silly. What’s the difference of a year? Why are we making people in their 50’s make tough decisions around their personal life? Does it really matter if someone gets re-married in their 50s? I don’t know, just throwing out some ideas.

    Thanks for sharing :)

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