Here is a transcript of a recent consultation I had with Henry VIII who is turning 62. Although the meeting did not start or end well, I share this difficult exchange with you in case it can help others understand the family benefits of Social Security.
Henry VIII: Can’t you find a more suitable chair for me to sit in?
Me: Your highness . . .
Henry VIII: (interrupting) Call me “King Henry,” and I will tolerate the seating arrangements. Let us get down to business. I am meeting with you today to review all of the Social Security benefits for which my family is eligible.
Me: King Henry, let’s start off with this question: Are you now or have you ever been married?
Henry VIII: Yes (with a smirk).
Me: I notice a bit of a smirk; are you now divorced?
Henry VIII: Which wife are you speaking of?
Me: Hmm . . . I see I need to backtrack a bit. How many times have you been married?
Henry VIII: Six.
Henry VIII: I’ve endured.
Me: OK, I think we need to go one-by-one and review each wife separately. What was your first wife’s name?
Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon.
Me: Can I just call her Catherine?
Henry VIII: There were three Catherines.
Me: Have mercy. I assume that you divorced Catherine, correct?
Henry VIII: Technically, we called it “annulled,” but this strategy seems to have lost favor in modern times.
Me: Did the marriage last at least ten years?
Henry VIII: Yes.
Me: OK, then Catherine of Aragon will be eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit, and she can begin applying for her benefit at age 62 or full benefits at age 66.
Henry VIII: No, she can’t.
Me: Listen, King, you came in here with your royal entourage to get my professional expertise, and I would appreciate it if you let me explain what you are paying me to explain. Catherine of Aragon is eligible for a divorced spousal benefit and . . .
Henry VIII: (interrupting) She’s dead.
Me: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Henry VIII: I’m not.
Me: I get the feeling we should just move on. Do you have any other dead wives?
Henry VIII: Four of them.
Me: Oh my God. Let’s focus on your wives who are living. Who is your current wife?
Henry VIII: Catherine Parr.
Me: And how long have you been married?
Henry VIII: Just over a year.
Me: And do you have any children together?
Henry VIII: No, and it’s quite a sore subject.
Me: I’m sorry. Because you have been married over a year, Catherine Parr will also be eligible for a spousal benefit. How about your other living exes?
Henry VIII: I was married to Anne of Cleves for six months.
Me: You only gave it six months?! I’m sorry. Let me get back to business. She will not be eligible for a benefit, since you were far from passing the ten-year divorced spouse test. Do you have any living children from any of your wives?
Henry VIII: Yes—Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.
Me: Are any of them either under age 20 and a full-time student or under age 18?
Henry VIII: Yes, Elizabeth is 18 and being tutored in the King’s court, and Edward is 14.
Me: Are either of them married or disabled?
Henry VIII: No, but Edward was betrothed at age six.
Me: Only marriage will make them ineligible. So in sum, you should expect to receive three additions to your Social Security check. The first is on behalf of your current wife, assuming this marriage works out. She can receive up to 50% of your basic benefit if she waits until she’s 66.
Henry VIII: (interrupting) I doubt she will make it that long.
Me: Are you suggesting that she will claim early because she is the impatient type?
Henry VIII: I am the one growing impatient.
Me: (pretending to ignore the last comment) And your two children will also be eligible for child benefits of 50% of your basic benefit. However, you are certain to hit the maximum family benefit cap.
Henry VIII: Explain.
Me: Social Security caps the total benefit that is calculated from one person’s lifetime payments and insured status at between 150% and 180%. If you receive both a spousal and two child benefits, they will all be proportionately reduced by this maximum cap. For example, if you are eligible for a $2,000 benefit, your total benefits including all family benefits will be capped at between $3,000 and $3,600.
Henry VIII: Have the payments made in gold.
Me: I’m sorry, King. New Social Security beneficiaries are only eligible for direct deposit. Um, King, your face is turning beet red. Perhaps we should wrap up this meeting.
Henry VIII: Rack him!
I ran out the emergency exit before King Henry’s men could lay a hand on me.
“King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded. One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.”