Dear Dr. Don,
I have been living with a man for about three years who receives Social Security. We have talked about marriage, but so far have not taken the leap — he would like to be married; I’m not so sure. If we marry, would I be eligible to “inherit” his Social Security benefits on his death?
— Engaging Erin

Dear Erin,
Social Security Online’s Retirement Planner has a page, “Benefits for your spouse,” that lays out the particulars concerning decisions to receive spousal benefits. You don’t have to wait for him to pass to collect these benefits. You didn’t mention your age, but if you’re not at retirement age, you may have to wait to take advantage of these spousal benefits.

You do need to be married for at least a year, with certain exceptions, to claim spousal benefits. The “Social Security Handbook” explains the one-year rule and the possible exceptions to that rule.

You have to be married for nine months, although there are some exceptions, before you can claim survivor benefits as his widow. The Social Security FAQ page “Marriage requirement to receive survivors benefits” provides further information on this point.

Thanks to Edward Lafferty, public affairs specialist at the Social Security Administration, for helping me with this reply.

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