Q: I have been told that when my spouse dies I will get his Social Security. Do I still collect mine also? I was also told that the Social Security Administration will help me pay for burial. How much will they pay for burial?
A: When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive is based on your work history. If you have not worked at all, you can collect on your spouse's work history. In the situation when you have both worked you can collect on whichever monthly benefit amount is higher.
In the situation where one spouse has died, the surviving spouse should contact Social Security Administration (SSA). The funeral home or hospital usually notifies SSA of the actual event of the death. You the individual need to contact SSA to work through any benefit changes that might apply to your situation.
Contacting SSA can be done a number of ways. You can call their national number at 1-800-772-1213 or the local number at 1-877-319-9182, or visit them in person at 321 Hazeltine Ave. in Jamestown or on the web at www.ssa.gov. During this contact you will speak to SSA staff or receive information that will assist you through this difficult situation. They can answer questions you have regarding your current monthly benefit amount, filing for benefits if you don't already collect benefits and adjusting your benefit amount to the new amount. They will explain what will happen to your SSA payment and when. This conversation also will prompt a written letter you will receive later explaining what was discussed, and the final outcome of that discussion.
In a situation when one spouse (John) collects $1,500 in monthly Social Security and the other spouse (Joan) collects $800 in benefits; the following two scenarios apply. If John dies and Joan is still living, her SSA benefit will increase to the $1,500 amount. She will begin collecting the higher amount of the two payments. The smaller amount no longer comes to the household. If Joan dies, her SSA benefit obviously stops and John continues to collect $1,500 like he always has.
Now if only all situations were that easy. Sometimes there are complications, like divorce prior to death, multiple marriages for one or both spouses, and many others. I cannot address all those situations here. That is what SSA is going to help you with.
As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
The second question you asked was SSA helping with burial costs. SSA does give surviving spouses or surviving dependent children a onetime payment of $255. If the individual at death is single, divorced or widowed, there is no one-time payment. (I just recently learned this).
This $255 can certainly be used towards burial, but it will in no way pay for burial expenses completely.
I am hoping you asked these questions because you were curious and not facing this difficult situation in the near future. If you are close to this situation, please reach out to the resources I have included and your friends and family. We are here to help with this and many difficult situations that life throws at you.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.
You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 716-720-9797, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.