Death, divorce and remarriage - them are times when one needs special advice and counselling - both psychological and financial.
On the financial side, whenever one of these major changes takes place, retirement benefits can be altered. Some recent changes in the law deal directly with benefits going to widowed or divorced persons.
For years, widowers who worked for the federal government or state and local governments that were not covered by Social Security, could not get the Social Security benefits that had been earned by their decessed wives. Widows could get their husbands' Social Security, even though they were collecting other government pension benefits.
Then the Supreme Court handed down a decision that said this was discrimination and widowers should be treated the same as widows. But the chance for dual pension payments didn't last long. Congress wrote a new law that says you can get your deceased wife's Social Security, but it's reduced dollar for dollar by the amount you're getting on your own government pension. In effect - a washout. Widows who worked for the federal government or other government not covered by Social Security can continue to get dual benefits for up to five years. The widows were given an extension because they had always been able to get the double payments and now, presumsbly, they need time to make other plans.
Congress also wrote another amendment to the law, which allows widows who remarry after age 60 the right to keep their widow's benefits under Social Security or choose to take one-half of their now husband's benefits when they reach age 66 - whichever is greater. They can also continue to get widow's benefits or take 37 percent of their now husband's benefits when they reach age 62.
This was done to eliminate much of the so-called "living in sin" that was taking place because benefits used to be completely lost when widows remarried.
As you can see, age 60 is an important crossroad for a widow. If she remarries before age 60, she loss her rights to widow's benefits and must take a portion of her new husband's benefits, no matter what. So, there's still an incentive for some widows to live in sin before age 60.
In the case of divorce, a woman can now get her ex-husband's benefits if she was married to him for at least 10 years. Previously, a divorcee had to have been married for at least 20 years to be eligible for her ex-husband's Social Security. There's an incentive for a divorced woman to move in with a new partner, without getting married, to keep her rights to her ex-husband's Social Security, because she loses her rights to her ex-husband's Social Security if she remarries.
But if a divorced woman's ex-husband dies and she remarries after age 60, she's treated like any other widow and can have the choice between her widow's rights to her ex-husband's Social Security or a portion of her husband's benefits, whichever is greater.
As you can see, things can become complicated during the changes in one's life that come from the death of a spouse, divorce or remarriage.
Because there are all sorts of retirement benefit and tax changes during these times, it's who to seek counseling.
Q: Responding to your recent column on "How to Bury Without Bankruptcy," I though you readers would like to know about The Living Bank in Houston, Texas. This organization assists people in donating their body or organs to scientific research.
A: Thanks for the reminder. I investigated The Living Bank and found it to be an effective, nonprofit organization that has helped many a client donate all or part, of his body to science or to a living receiver. There is no fee.
The Living Bank acts as a sort of clearinghouse that gets your body or organs to the right place at the right time. This is important because, in some areas, medical schools are turning away bodies, and in other areas there's desperate need for donations.
The Living Bank is also in touch with hospitals where transplant donations are urgently needed. It's difficult, if not impossible, for the deceased's heirs to know immediately where transplant material is needed.
To be sure your body or your organs are donated, you must fill out a form and a Uniform Donor Card (the only legal document needed under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act.)
In donating your body or organs, you not only are helping another living person or persons, you often cut funeral expenses that have to be paid out of your estate. There is no need for embalming or many other funeral expenses. Your body is sent to a hospital, organ bank or medical school and, if you wish, your cremated remains can be returned to your family.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, the human body "is not a valuable asset and is not deductible as a gift." (If it's not a valuable asset, then what is it? A liability?) The IRS likens the donation of a body or organs to donating blood - which is also not deductible. The rationale is that you're doing a "final" volunteer service and volunteer work has never been deductible.
But the IRS did say that expenses incurred in donating a body or organs might be deductible, as are expenses incurred in doing volunteer work (transportation costs, fees and the like).
For an informative booklet on the Texas body bank and body donations in general write: The Living Bank, P.O. Box 6725, Houston, Tex. 77005. The bank also has a 24-hour phone line (713) 528-2971.
Q: I'm moving to take a new job. Can I deduct the moving expenses on my income tax return?
A: Yes, says the Internal Revenue Service, if your new job is at least 35 miles farther from your old home than your old job was. Your local IRS office has a booklet on it.