How to help divorced widows and widowers

By Ken Davis

How would you feel if you showed an 85-year-old widow or widower how to increase Social Security income by hundreds of dollars per month? It might mean it would cover a trip to see their grandchildren or pay for the grandchildren to fly out to see Grandma. Or, maybe they could pay for more services they need at the retirement community. Or maybe they feel guilty because their kids are paying for their care and would be greatly relieved to reduce or eliminate any subsidy the kids are paying for their care.

Most people know that a surviving spouse can switch their benefits to a Social Security survivor benefit. However, they rarely know they may be able to claim benefits on former spouses they divorced years ago that are now deceased.

Did you know that? I didn’t until recently. If the former spouse was from a marriage of more than 10 years, they qualify to take a 100 percent of that person's benefit if they, too, are now deceased. If they have more than one divorce from marriages over 10 years, they get to pick the best of the bunch. And if one died recently and another dies a few more years down the line, then they can start with the most recent deceased and then switch to the new one later. I know there is a joke here somewhere and that this is quite morbid, but it is serious business for these people.

If they are getting a survivor benefit currently, they do not have to be afraid of losing it through a new marriage if they marry a new spouse after reaching age 60.

Many ask if electing benefits on others hurts other widows of a deceased former spouse already claiming on the same person. The answer is that all claimants get the full benefit and nobody gets hurt. I am starting to meet with officers of retirement communities and offering to speak to their residents. My hope is that I can improve the Social Security benefits of some of these people.

What’s in it for me? Good feelings and maybe good karma if you believe in that stuff. Yes, it is likely I will see business referrals from this. However, my focus is on helping. How about you? Care to spread the good news and help a bunch of people out?