Can I get the benefits of my dead husband after a secret divorce?

Dear Benny,

My ex-husband was killed in a car accident in November 2018. We have been legally married for five years. We divorced so that our daughter could get SSI. She has cerebral palsy.

When we got divorced, we didn’t tell anyone except Social Security. Not even his parents know that we are divorced. We were planning to marry again at Peace Justice after our daughter turned 18. Unfortunately, he was killed three months before her eighteenth birthday.

I took care of his funeral and I’m his property manager. My daughter is taking advantage of the benefits he is getting because she is disabled. I was told I did not qualify. Is there a way to overcome this?

I’ve barely worked in the 20 years we’ve been together. I stayed at home to take care of our daughter. She had countless doctor’s appointments, physical, therapy, speech therapy, and several surgeries. So far it’s hard for me to find a job within her schedule.

The surviving spouse

Dear surviving spouse,

Unfortunately, the circumstances of your divorce do not matter to Social Security. If you claim retirement or heirs benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, Social Security requires the marriage to last at least 10 years.

But it looks like you may be eligible for something called mom or dad insurance benefits after your tragic loss. The program is administered through Social Security. It is available to living spouses and ex-spouses who are caring for the child of a deceased worker who was fully insured. (In Social Security parlance, “fully insured deceased worker” refers to someone who died with sufficient work credits to qualify for benefits, which usually means that they have worked full-time for at least 10 years.)

You can get Mom or Dad insurance benefits if the child is under 16 or, as in your case, the child is an adult with a disability that began before age 22. You do not have to meet the 10-year marriage requirements, although you must remain unmarried. The maximum benefit is 75% of your late spouse’s basic security deposit, a benefit he would have qualified for at full retirement age.

You will only be eligible for this benefit if your daughter remains in your care. If you think your daughter may be able to live independently one day or that you may not be able to care for her at some point, it’s important to keep in mind, especially if you don’t have enough work credits to qualify for Social Security benefits on your own. .

Since being a caregiver for your daughter is obviously a full-time job, you may also be able to get paid as a caregiver. Many state Medicaid programs allow family members to earn money as caregivers, although rules vary widely by state. If this is an option, you can earn your Social Security credits in addition to the income.

The Social Security Eligibility Check Tool is a good source to confirm that you qualify for maternal or paternal insurance, along with any other benefits. The rules for different Social Security benefits are incredibly complicated, even for people who deal with issues like yours every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Social Security simply gave you incorrect information when it told you you didn’t qualify for benefits.

I regret that in addition to the tragic loss that you and your daughter have endured, you have left yourself to navigate these bureaucratic labyrinths. I hope these options will help fill the lagging financial void.

Robin Hartell is a certified financial planner and senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. Send your tough financial questions to [email protected].

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