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Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman
When a Railroad Worker's Widow Remarries Another Retired Rail Worker
(Posted April 15, 2000)
Question 50: My father was a railroad employee for 35 years. He died 10 years ago. My mother has remarried to a man who also is a retired rail worker. To my mother's surprise, her benefits as a spouse based on her second husband's record are much lower that what she was receiving as a widow based on my father's record. Her second husband is now in a nursing home with a serious illness, and all of his retirement benefit goes to the nursing home. Is my mother's rate correct? Can we do anything to change this situation?
Answer: Without knowing the specific factors in your mother's case, I can offer two reasons for the decrease in your mother's Railroad Retirement payments.
First, she is now receiving a spouse's annuity based on her second husband's earnings. After your father died and before her remarriage, she was receiving a widow's annuity based on his earnings record. Generally, a spouse annuity is less than a widow's annuity because it is about 50% of the rail worker's benefit, where a widow's annuity is nearly equal to the rail worker's benefit.
Second, the two husbands probably didn't have the same lifetime earnings. If the first husband had significantly higher earnings, the difference for your mother would be even more dramatic.
Your should check with the Railroad Retirement Board. If your mother's current marriage were to end through divorce or annulment, could she reestablish her entitlement as a widow on your father's record? I don't know.
This question points out the importance of checking how remarriage will affect benefit amounts with the Railroad Retirement Board before the marriage takes place.
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