Senior Living

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Health & Spirit

Social Security and You: 'Living in Sin' No Longer Required to Get Social Security

Tom Margenau on

And sometimes sparks would fly, and the sweet, lovely elderly couple would decide to get married. All was happiness and bliss until the woman realized this: If she got married, she would lose the widow's benefits she was collecting on her first husband's Social Security record.

How could this be? Well, it all has to do with that concept of "dependency" as a qualifying factor for her widow's benefits. To repeat, she was getting those benefits because she was deemed to be financially dependent on her first husband. But if she married husband No. 2, then the law would consider her to be this new guy's dependent spouse. That meant she could no longer be deemed dependent on her first husband. Therefore, she would no longer qualify for widow's benefits on his Social Security record.

So how did she get around this law? Well, that's where the "sinning" came in. If the couple merely lived together, as opposed to legally tying the knot, she could keep collecting her widow's benefits from her first husband.

Eventually, the media picked up on this trend. And they had a field day with it. Headlines in newspapers around the country went like this: "Widow must live in sin to avoid losing Social Security check." Television news reports featured interviews with women in disguise who reported, "I am ashamed to say I am living in sin to avoid losing my government benefits." Whatever the report, the phase "living in sin" was always the common thread.

It became a national embarrassment that a federal law was requiring these sweet little old grandmas to live outsides the bounds of marriage. Eventually, the pressure just got too much for red-faced members of Congress. They couldn't act quickly enough to change the law. I don't remember the exact date, but sometime in the 1970s they changed the law to say that a woman who remarried after age 60 could continue to receive widow's benefits from her first husband's Social Security account.

 

And that law still stands today. But of course today, the whole concept of "living in sin" as a social taboo is almost laughable. For example, just on my own block, there are two older couples who have been living together -- unmarried -- for years. It's just no big deal.

On the other hand, there also are many senior citizen couples who want to make everything legal and get married. And if the woman is getting a Social Security widow's check, she has absolutely no fear of losing those benefits from husband No. 1 if she decides to walk down the aisle with husband No. 2.

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If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

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