Welcome to The Mighty Widow!
I’m Maryalene. I became a widow at age 35 when my husband, Tom, died at age 37.
He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer three years earlier, and we went through chemo, radiation and a major surgery before we finally discovered it was a lost cause. I say “we” but it was really “he.” I basically watched helplessly from the sidelines, trying desperate to find the right things to say and do that would make dying seem somehow ok.
Together, we helped create five beautiful children; our youngest was only six months old when he died.
Now that Tom is gone, I’m working hard to pick up the pieces. As of this writing, we’re 2.5 years into the journey, and bits of normalcy are finally starting to click into place. I’m also finally ready to start talking about Tom and what we went through. I’ve never been able to stick with a journal, but I like the accountability and community of blogs so we’ll give this a try.
I also hope to put together a list of resources for widowed mothers — everything from who to call the day after a death to how to carry on in his absence.
I’m so glad you’re joining me here. I hope, together, we can be Mighty Widows.
BillNovember 7, 2015
Hi…we read your March 2015 article on SS Spousal Benefits. No matter how hard we try we get conflicting answers to this:
When I reach 62 and my wife will then be 63, can I file and suspend benefits (or file restricted application??) but not collect and continue to work…but my wife files for spousal benefits on my work record? Even if it means a reduced spousal benefit for her is it possible at all?
Thanks in advance.
Maryalene LaPonsieNovember 9, 2015
Unfortunately, you need to be at your full retirement age (which is age 66 for those born between 1943-1954) to use either the File & Suspend or Restricted Application strategies.
Even more unfortunate, it’s my understanding the recent budget bill is eliminating both these options for those born after 1954.
Wish I had better news to share!
Disclaimer: I am happy to provide information on finance and retirement issues, but please be aware I am not a tax professional nor a financial planner.
Ken HannanDecember 5, 2015
I read your informative article in US News and World Reports. I had heard that changes were made, but am unclear on the implications for our circumstances.
I turned 62 in November of 2015 and my wife will turn 62 in September of 2016.
We have a significant amount saved in our IRAs, and thought we had a good plan in place that would allow us to retire in January 2016, by augmenting regular withdrawls from the IRA with an optimized plan for taking Social Security benefits.
We were planning on filing for her Social Security when she turns 62, which we know is less than she would get if she waited until her full retirement age of 66, and I thought I would get about 37% of that reduced amount. Then, when I turn 70, we were going to reverse that scenario, as we let mine grow at 8% per year to the maximum amount. I think I will make it to 84 at least based on my lifestyle and family health history.
She has longevity on her side, so I wanted to delay my benefit as long as possible, so that she gets 100% of mine after I am gone.
I think we can still carry out my side of the plan, since I turned 62 before 1/1/16, but what I am unsure of is whether she can claim her benefit at all when she turns, 62, and still get half of mine when I turn 70, and then 100% of mine, assuming I predecease her. I don’t think that I can get a portion of hers, since she turns 62 in 2016.
Let me know your thoughts on this strategy, and what is still doable. We are on the verge of retirement but could alter our plans if needed. If you want more details, my email address is included above.
Maryalene LaPonsieDecember 15, 2015
Thanks so much for your note, and I apologize for the delay in responding. With all the holiday happenings, checking the blog has taken a back seat.
I, of course, have to preface this by saying I am not a tax or finance professional so you should consider this as a conversation between friends rather than any type of professional advice. However, as a personal finance writer, here are my thoughts:
1. While it is true you are grandfathered under the old restricted application rules, I don’t think your scenario will work as I understand it. It sounds like you want your wife to file for early benefits at age 62 and then you file a restricted application for spousal benefits at that time. However, even under the old system, you can only submit a restricted application at age 66. If you file before then, you fall under the “deemed filing” rules which mean you get either your benefits or spousal benefits, whichever is greater. You don’t have any choice in the matter.
2. You could have your wife file for benefits at age 62 and then you could file a restricted application at age 66 (assuming Congress doesn’t change the rules before then). However, I am not sure if your wife could switch to a spousal benefit at age 70. That’s not something I’ve researched before — maybe a topic for a future article!
3. Depending on the size of your IRA, I would consider whether you could use that money to retire early while delaying Social Security until age 66. This is where a finance professional would be helpful. They could probably run the numbers to help you understand how much you could comfortably withdraw from your account and still have it last your anticipated life expectancy. You may also be able to ramp down the withdrawals significantly in the future if you are getting greater Social Security benefits by waiting until your full retirement age.
4. A final option to consider is whether part-time or seasonal work may fit within your lifestyle goals and bring in enough money to delay Social Security for a few years.
Those last two points are simply some food for thought. Bottom line to your suggested scenario is that you would both be essentially applying early if you file next year, and there is no opportunity to defer benefits until age 70 if you file before age 66.
Hope that makes sense and is helpful. As always, talking to a pro is a good way to run a few different scenarios to maximize your retirement money. If you do decide to go that route, look for someone who charges a flat fee for a consultation rather than someone who works for “free” and then will try to convince you to move your investments to high-commission products.
Sarah PebworthDecember 9, 2015
Hi Maryalene, It’s so great to have your voice in the world.
I’m running a contest to find the next innkeeper/owner for my inn, the Blue Hill Inn on the coast of Maine. I think this will appeal to many of your readers as a great gift idea, or as a fantastic option for themselves. Could you help us share this opportunity?
All the best,
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You could give someone the gift of a lifetime, for just $150
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We have the perfect answer. Give them the Blue Hill Inn! Or even better (for your wallet), give them all a chance to win the inn. For $150, you can buy an entry fee and present the lucky recipient with the gift code and instructions on how to enter. You can even suggest ideas as the happy recipient drafts the winning essay. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31 so don’t delay.
The inn has 11 guest rooms in the 1830s inn building and 2 apartment-like suites in a more modern Cape next door. The inn has a commercial kitchen and a sunny 30-seat dining room. The property has fruit trees and numerous sitting areas and gardens. The inn has earned a wonderful reputation and great reviews on TripAdvisor. The property is two blocks from Blue Hill Bay and a town park with a swimming beach, in the seaside village of Blue Hill, Maine.
To enter, candidates must write a 200-word essay explaining why they would love to own and operate the Blue Hill Inn. Entrants must include an entry fee of $150, which will be returned if sufficient entries are not received. Full contest details can be found at WintheBlueHillInn on Facebook or at winthebluehillinn.com. The winner will also receive a hefty check to help them get started, $25,000, if enough entries are received.
Maryalene LaPonsieDecember 15, 2015
Sounds like an intriguing contest!
While I don’t think I have a good platform to share your contest, I am happy to publish your comment here.
Have a great day!
NIRUDecember 10, 2015
I am sorry for your loss, but also proud of you that, you have skill and start reseach for people like us.
My husband is born on 25th May 1951, and I am 7th Sep. 1951, are we eligible for spousal benefits?
Appriceate your thoughts
Maryalene LaPonsieDecember 15, 2015
Thanks so much for your kind note.
It sounds like you’re asking about restricted applications, which allow someone to receive spousal benefits while deferring their own benefits. Under the changes made by the recent budget act, those born in 1953 or earlier are grandfathered in under the previous rules regarding restricted applications. So yes, you should be able to file one once you hit age 66. The only catch is that either you or your husband will have to file and receive benefits in order for the other person to file the restricted application.
In your case, using a restricted application may look like this:
1. Your husband begins receiving Social Security after May 25, 2017.
2. You file a restricted application after September 7, 2017 for spousal benefits.
3. You defer taking your benefits until age 70, at which time you can switch to your own Social Security benefit (assuming it’s greater than your spousal benefit amount).
Of course, that assumes Congress doesn’t make any further changes before you reach age 66.
This reply also comes with the disclaimer that I’m providing information based upon my understanding of the law and should be not be construed as legal of financial advice. It’s always best to consult with a pro for definitive answers.
However, I hope this helps!
10 Ways to Help a Friend Who Is a New WidowAugust 10, 2016
[…] Whether it comes unexpectedly or after a long illness, losing a spouse is traumatic at best. At worst it can be debilitating. I know because, at age 35, I became a widow myself. […]
WARREN FINEMay 3, 2017
Re Spousal social security benefits
I am using this medium to ask a question. I am a CPA in St Louis. A client whose annual social security benefits are $ 30,600 and , whose wife was born in 1966, is considering waiting until age 70 to draw. What would her annual benefits be then ?
Maryalene LaPonsieMay 4, 2017
The Social Security Administration has a calculator on its site that can help your client estimate benefits at 62, full retirement age and 70. Here’s a link: https://www.ssa.gov/retire/estimator.html
Hope this helps!
William T. McGeeJuly 15, 2017
We are getting conflicting information from Social Security. I began drawing Social security at 66, but continued working. My wife will be 65 in September of 2017. She wants to work until she is 66 and then retire. Can she draw 50 percent of the amount of my retirement amount now and revert to her own social security when she turns 66 or does she have to wait until she is 70? Will her own social security retirement or mine be reduced if she takes advantage of this?
Maryalene LaPonsieJuly 15, 2017
You’re talking about a restricted application here, and your wife should be grandfathered into the old rules that allow her to file for spousal benefits only. This is what the IRS says:
Can I restrict my application for benefits and apply only for spouse’s benefits and delay filing for my own retirement benefit in order to earn delayed retirement credits?
If you turn 62 before January 2, 2016, deemed filing rules will not apply if you file at full retirement age or later. This means that you may file for either your spouse’s benefit or your retirement benefit without being required or “deemed” to file for the other. In your case, you may also restrict your application to apply only for spouse’s benefits and delay filing for your own retirement in order to earn delayed retirement credits. However, if you turn age 62 on or after January 2, 2016, you are required or “deemed” to file for both your own retirement and for any benefits you are due as a spouse, no matter what age you are.
That’s FAQ #4 at this link: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/deemedfaq.html
VERY IMPORTANT: This only works if your wife has reached full retirement age. If she files now, she will fall under the deemed filing rules and will get either her own benefits or the spousal benefits, whichever is greater. However, if she waits until full retirement age (66 for those born from ’43-’54), she can file a restricted application for spousal benefits and then let her own benefit amount grow until whenever she decides to switch over. Your benefit amount shouldn’t be affected regardless of when she files.
This, of course, comes with the caveat that I’m a personal finance writer and not a financial planner, accountant or anything similar. While I am happy to provide information based on my knowledge of the subject, this response shouldn’t be construed as professional advice.
However, I hope this helps point you in the right direction!
Givoanna MedinaAugust 16, 2017
Love your blog. You can welcome on more widow! I was married for 31 years to the man my father profited me from dating as a freshman in college. My dad, Big Al, wanted to keep the Sicilian bloodline “pure.” Little Al was Hispanic. We snuck out for a year…and then it was ultimatum time. I had to tell my dad the truth. He told me he would give me permission but not his blessing. I took what I could get. We married in the same Italian Catholic Church my parents and all my aunts and uncles and cousins are essentially “hatched” and “dispatched.”
I had a head on accident a year later (caused by a drunk driver trying to commit suicide). I was sick for 5 years…saw 25 doctors with no consensus on my diagnosis. I had sever light sensitivity (often had to wear dark glasses inside), sound sensitivity (not able to handle amplified music, loud parties), and smell sensitivity (chemicals, fragrances, new synthetics, carpet, cleaners, car exhaust, etc.). My husband was there for my decades of darkness. In 2003, I got. better after some effective immune enhancing medical and dental interventions. About that time my husband band of 30 years retired, our daughter’s husband left her a year after her big fate Italian wedding of 350 “intimate” guests, and his mother died. I later found out she made him keep a family secret on her deathbed that he swore never to reveal to the other sibs or anyone for that matter. No longer working 70 hours a week and tormented by “the secret” Little Al feel into a big depression. He met a woman half my age across the border. He had a child with her while we were still married. A prime example of how the devil can make you stupid beyond recognition.
Al was a great dad, a good husband and good human being. Period. he fell from grace and hit the ground hard. A chaste new bride in 1974 and a faithful wife until the marriage breathed its last breath. I buried my husband for all. intents and purposes. With him I buried the $4000 monthly pension I would have been awarded had he not fallen off the deep end. I was supposed to retire at 50 due to my extreme eyestrain, difficulty with the computer glare as an editor for 30 years spending 10-12 hours a day staring at a screen, and other health challenges…but as a new widow…with no access to that old pension, I had to work.
In the meantime, I felt compelled to pray for the man who was living in his own hellish darkness for the next two years after filing for divorce. Praying he would come to his senses. I told him he was worth giving himself another chance. I told him I forgave him. I freed myself from the sting of anger. The kids and I decided to forgive Little Al with every heartbeat because anything short of that was sort of impossible. Two years later…he got pancreatic cancer. I told him to come home and let me take care of him. We pulled out all the old pictures and I disposed of all the broken glass from the throwing fits four years prior. The doctors gave him 6 – 11 months.
But he passed away a week later. So I buried little Al, once again. Only this time was it was for real. Oh, and he was laid to rest right under Big Al. Who would have thought? Roomies forever. It’s been 12 long years since he left. I still can’t get used to it…but am grateful for the inner joy and peace he left me with upon departing this unpredicatable life…
My widow friends are some of the most courageous and incredible people I’ve had the pleasure to know. Beauty from the ashes.
By the way, I will be forced to semi-retire by the year’s end. Can’t handle the glare any more. So I’m looking for a writer. Maryellen, do you, by chance, write consumer mortgage educational/ sales content? Looking for a freelance writer for a monthly print-only Direct Response Copywriting publication. Let me know if you’re interested. My company has published this newsletter for nearly 30 years,,,every single month. Talk about steady work…
Maryalene LaPonsieSeptember 1, 2017
My! What a time you’ve had! Life never takes us where we expect or want it to, right? So much sadness in your story, but I’m glad you and your husband were together at the end.
I’ve been busy with work and kids and have been off the blog most of the month so I apologize for the delayed response. You may have already found someone, but I do have some experience writing about the mortgage industry. I can be reached at [email protected] if you are still looking for a writer.
Thanks so much for sharing your story and take care!
AndrewOctober 2, 2017
I just read your article on “Will the insurance company cover it or not.” I have a situation I’d appreciate your opinion on. I’ve had some leakage inside my car from heavy rains. Can’t tell the source of the leak. There is nothing obvious. My insurance agent does not think it would be covered under comprehensive. Without reading my policy, can you give your opinion as to if diagnosing the source of the leak and fixing it would or would not be covered? Thanks very much.
Maryalene LaPonsieOctober 2, 2017
Every policy is different, but it’s been my experience that water damage is not covered by most companies.
As for the cause, does your vehicle have a sunroof? If so, it might have a tube intended to channel water away from the sunroof and under the car. We had a situation once where that tube got dislodged and started emptying onto the floor of the car instead. Otherwise, I am not sure what could be the issue.
Sorry I don’t have better news to share!
AndrewOctober 2, 2017
Thanks for your reply, Mayalene. I should have added that my car does not have a sunroof. I’ve had it for a good while, and this was the first time this has ever happened…to this car. I’ll add that I’ve never heard of anything like this before. I got it used a good while ago, but it had never been involved in an accident either.
Maryalene LaPonsieOctober 2, 2017
In that case, I’m stumped if the windows were all closed tight. I’ve never heard of a car leaking either. Maybe the manufacturer might have an idea what’s causing the problem. If you find out, I’d be curious to hear the cause.
AndyOctober 26, 2017
I found your article “How much life insurance do you really need” a great starting point for people looking for guidance on how much coverage to purchase. I was hoping you could share your thoughts on people simply buying what they could afford? Here’s why I ask. Let’s say you make $60,000 a year. You need coverage until you retire in twenty years. Got three kids. Have college to think about, car loans a mortgage, etc. Just a regular 45-year-old male. Standard class. Well, he needs about 1.2 million in coverage. The monthly cost of $250.00 is not doable so he just puts off getting coverage. Doesn’t want to deal with the whole process again. That said, do you think more people would get the coverage they need if it was based on affordability and not a formula of future needs? Example – I can afford $60.00 a month and that will get me $250,000.
Appreciate your thoughts,
Maryalene LaPonsieNovember 4, 2017
I definitely think people should buy what they can afford even if it’s not the ideal level of coverage!
A family would better off with $250,000 than with nothing. However, I would also shop around a little first. For a non-smoker, $60/mo for a 20-year term of $250,000 seems a bit high. With open enrollment going on right now, those who are employed with benefits should check and see whether there is any voluntary coverage available through the workplace. These group plans are typically cheaper than buying your own coverage. However, be aware that you typically lose coverage once you leave your job so ideally, workplace coverage would be a supplement to an individual policy.
Hope this help!
Doug GladstoneOctober 29, 2017
I’m pitching you about the 500 retirees w/o MLB pensions.
I know you contribute on a regular basis to US News & World Report. The above story is not being told because most sportswriters and sports columnists are afraid to have their access to players restricted by management and the teams themselves.
I will send you plenty of releases and backgrounders if you want to move forward.
Thanks, in advance, for your consideration .
Maryalene LaPonsieNovember 4, 2017
The sports angle is a little outside my wheelhouse, but I’ll run it by my editor. If she’s interested, I’ll send you an email.
Thanks for thinking of me!
LindaFebruary 20, 2018
Need help please: I am divorced 71 yrs young woman from an ex who abused me. He is 92. If he dies before me, will I be able to receive his full social security check each month which is twice what I get??? I need answers fast as I am scared to death
Maryalene LaPonsieFebruary 20, 2018
If you were married for at least 10 years and have not remarried, you are likely eligible to receive Social Security spousal benefits right now. Those are generally equal to 50% of his retirement benefit. When he passes away, again assuming you were married for 10 years and have not remarried, you should be eligible for spousal survivor benefits which are typically 100% of what he receives.
Here’s the Social Security page on benefits for divorced spouses if you want to do some more reading: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html
I hope this information is helpful and puts your mind at ease!
Mark MasonApril 27, 2018
Maryalene, I found your article (https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/aging/articles/2017-11-27/how-owning-a-home-can-help-or-hinder-your-retirement) really useful to me personally and to my readers who often move back to the US without owning a home. I quoted it in an article today in the hopes of getting them to save more. If you have other articles to suggest for US Expat Nonprofit workers, please let me know.
Maryalene LaPonsieMay 3, 2018
So glad the article was useful to you! Offhand, I can’t think of any specific articles to send your way, but I’ll let you know if I do.
Thanks for your kind note!
Mark MasonMay 4, 2018
Thank you for your reply. I linked to your article here: https://vagabondfinances.com/expat-american-dream/ .
I also linked to the MightyWidow.com on https://www.facebook.com/VagabondFinances/ (but it is waaaay down the page by now).
I’m afraid much of my audience cannot by a home (as expats) but are not saving the excess. That’s gonna be a problem.
Cathy PollackAugust 21, 2021
I just read your article about continuing to wear your wedding ring after Googling the topic. My husband of 26 years died from brain cancer a little over a year ago, and I basically wanted to make sure I’m not too crazy for wanting to continue wearing my ring. Thank you for your reassurance on that front.
Like you, I buried my husband with his ring. I had actually been wearing his ring for many months before he died (underneath mine so it wouldn’t fall off my finger) due to the various medical procedures during the course of his illness that required him to remove it. A few days after his death but before the funeral, I realized I was still wearing it, and I asked the funeral director if I could bring it over to have it put back on his finger. If I hadn’t remembered in time, I would have been happy to keep the ring, but I’m more happy that it went back to its rightful place.